Get Answers to Your Most Commonly Asked Questions About Injury, Criminal, Divorce and Civil Law in North Carolina.
Questions about an important legal matter involving an injury claim, a criminal charge in state or federal court, a divorce or custody issue or a civil litigation case? We answer many of your questions here. This is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. It is designed to give you the information you need to get started and to be knowledgable about the process so that you can make good decisions about your case going forward.
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I was burned in a fire. How do I know if I have a case against the landlord or the property owner?
Landlords, property owners, and others who are in control of property have a responsibility to maintain the premises in a safe condition. That means they may be responsible if you are injured by a dangerous condition or their failure to warn of a dangerous condition.
If you have been injured in a fire, you may have a claim against the property owner’s insurance policy for your medical bills, future medical bills, loss of income, loss of use, scarring, pain and suffering, and other damages.
Watch out for this:
A few months ago, a guy called about a fire in his rental house. He had been asking his landlord for months to check on the wiring. He had told his landlord there was a problem. The landlord sent a handy-man and never fixed the problem.
There was a fire. The guy was lucky to escape with his family and his life. But, he was injured.
I asked him to come in immediately for a consultation. He politely declined. He had a friend who is a lawyer. That lawyer had given him some “pointers”. He submitted a claim on his own.
He called back this week. This insurance company denied the claim. The lawyer did not know about fire cases. The fire report was wrong. No one had collected the evidence that was necessary to pursue the claim. The restoration company had started (and in this case had finished) the clean up.
I had to tell him it was too late. At this point, the mistakes could not be fixed. The insurance company has made a final determination and the evidence that might make them reconsider has been destroyed.
It is possible to hire an expert to review the report and recreate the investigation. However, the fact that the expert never saw the building after the fire will always be a basis for discounting his or her opinion.
The law can be tricky. The insurance adjuster will closely examine the fire report and other evidence in an effort to deny your claim. Evidence will be destroyed by the clean-up efforts. You should contact us immediately if you think you have a claim.
I lost my sister in a business fire because the owner of the mall had neglected to make repairs or install fire sprinklers in her store. What sort of compensation can a lawyer get for my sister’s untimely death?
First of all, we want to say how sorry we are to hear about your loss.
A lawsuit for the early death of a family member caused by the negligence of another is called a wrongful death lawsuit. Legal jargon can be important: the statutory phrase is death by wrongful act in North Carolina. The idea behind this type of lawsuit is that the true victims are the people left behind—the family members of the deceased person.
In North Carolina, only the personal representative of the deceased person can be the plaintiff of a wrongful death suit. The personal representative represents the interests of the estate, but often can be persuaded by a consensus of the surviving family whether to file a lawsuit.
The next thing to do is to secure the services of a North Carolina law firm with a solid history of compassion for bereaved families and a fierce passion to get the maximum compensation their clients deserve. The Wilmington personal injury attorneys at Speaks Law Firm are experienced in handling premises liability claims for fatal North Carolina fires. We pursue clients’ claims with respect for the dignity of your deceased family member and for the family’s grieving process.
Six Categories of Recovery
Although mere money never can replace the value of a human life, the financial consequences caused by a sudden death in your family can be cushioned by the proceeds of a lawsuit. A detailed examination of the life of the deceased and her role within your family will allow us to make preliminary estimates about the value of your case.
The laws for wrongful death in North Carolina provide six categories of compensation:
- Expenses for medical care, treatment, and hospitalization from the time the deceased person was injured until her death, capped at a maximum of $4,500.
- Compensation for pain and suffering of the deceased person.
- Funeral expenses.
- The loss to close family members due to the death, including factors such as income the deceased person would have earned; the value of services, protection, and care the deceased person would have provided; and the value of companionship, comfort, advice, and guidance the deceased person would have given.
- Punitive damages, if the person responsible for the injury caused the death of the deceased person “through malice or willful or wanton conduct.”
- Nominal damages awarded by a jury. This would be a minimum recovery—$1—in recognition that the responsible party had inflicted other harms that could not be measured because the deceased person wasn’t able to testify about them.
Any money awarded for categories 1 and 3 will go to pay off expenses. Any remaining money from the lawsuit verdict or settlement will go to family members. By state law, the only people who can receive compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit are family members who would have inherited money from the deceased person’s estate if she had died without a will. That rule applies even if the decedent did leave a will; the rule still defines who can receive money after a lawsuit.
Further Information, When You Need It
If you have additional questions about pursuing a wrongful death claim in North Carolina, the Speaks Law Firm is just a phone call away. Call us at 877-593-4233 today to get more information or to set up a free consultation with one of our experienced Wilmington wrongful death attorneys.
What types of injuries are associated with a house fire?
Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association indicate that approximately 384,000 residential fires in the United States in 2010 caused 13,800 injuries and 2,665 deaths. While the deaths represent enormous—and potentially avoidable—tragedies, the nonfatal injuries also merit attention. In many cases, household fires cause permanent, life-changing injuries.
As North Carolina personal injury attorneys, we are all too familiar with the effects of scalding water, superheated gases and smoke, and fire on the human body. We summarize these effects below:
There are four categories, or degrees, of burn injuries, signifying the depth to which tissue is damaged:
- First degree burns. This injury is comparable to sunburn. The victim can expect minor pain and redness (erythema) on the epidermis, the top layer of skin. Generally, the burn will heal over a few days. Some evidence suggests that these burns may be associated with an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.
- Second degree burns. The damage extends to the lower layers of the skin—the papillary or reticular dermis. Blisters form, and the site is moist and extremely painful to the touch. Bacterial infection and cellulitis are risks with this category of burns. Healing may require several weeks to a month.
- Third degree burns. The skin is charred at all layers and appears dry and leathery. The site is usually painless because of nerve damage. Natural healing is impossible; the skin must be surgically excised and skin grafts used. The chance of infection is very high.
- Fourth degree burns. The skin is incinerated at all layers; muscle tissue and bone are charred. Severe nerve damage renders the injury site painless. This is a life-threatening injury that may require amputation or extensive plastic surgery. The risk of infection and gangrene is very high.
The combination of suffocation (also called asphyxiation) and smoke inhalation during a Wilmington residential fire can be devastating. Breathing injuries are the primary causes of death in U.S. house fires.
There are three different components of these injuries:
- Oxygen-depleted air. A burning fire consumes oxygen from the air. The remaining mix of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide cannot keep a person alive. Carbon monoxide is toxic and bonds more closely than oxygen to the hemoglobin in the blood, making it difficult to revive a patient with oxygen therapy alone. Prolonged exposure to oxygen-depleted air causes confusion, drowsiness, and death.
- Inhaled hot gases. Inhaling superheated combustion products can scorch and scar nasal passages and lung tissue. This can lead to permanent and disabling lung problems.
- Smoke. Smoke consists of carbon particles, ash, volatile organic compounds, and a variety of toxic gases including hydrogen sulfide. These can damage the respiratory system permanently, congest or obstruct breathing, and cause seizures and coma.
Know Your Rights—And Find Someone to Defend Them
If you or a loved one has been involved in North Carolina house fire or has sustained serious burn injuries, our Wilmington personal injury law firm can help. While you focus on your recovery, we can assist you by dealing with the insurance adjusters or negotiating with the liable party so you can get the care you need. At Speaks Law Firm, we offer compassion and a helping hand for fire victims. Call us today at 910-341-7570 locally or 877-593-4233 toll-free to schedule a FREE, no-obligation consultation.
My grandmother lives in a residential nursing home in North Carolina. I just found out that there was a small fire there a couple weeks ago, and that Gran had to be taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. Is it worth talking about this with a North Carolina personal injury attorney?
Any property owner has a duty to provide reasonably prudent care for the safety and wellbeing of people who are present on the premises. The law says that the obligation varies a bit depending on the nature of the relationship between the owner and the person; for instance, an invited guest is owed more consideration than a trespasser.
The duty of care is elevated still higher when the person is paying to use the property—for instance, when the person is renting a hotel room for a night, or renting an apartment for six months; beyond that would be the examples of North Carolina nursing homes and residential living facilities. Not only is the business owner being paid to provide secure and safe premises, but he also knows that the residents are infirm, often elderly, and sometimes suffering from dementia. In light of those specifics, what counts as “reasonable care” becomes a much stricter requirement. State and federal laws treat such facilities as special cases that require close regulation and scrutiny.
There’s No Way to Pass the Buck on This One
Premises liability law in North Carolina is quite clear. The owner of property can be held legally responsible—liable, in lawyers’ jargon—for certain harmful acts that occur on the property. If the owner knew about a risky situation on his property, or should have known about it, he is responsible for taking reasonable care to alert people about the danger and make the situation safe. In dealing with a nursing home population, the requirements of “reasonable care” are very extensive because of the residents’ special frailty.
Another key part of premises liability law is called non-delegability of duties. This means that the owner cannot free himself from his obligations to provide a safe environment by saying, “It was someone else’s job to take care of it.” He cannot delegate his duties of care. Even if the nursing home is operated by a separate business from the property owner, or even if a maintenance crew or security team should have reported a fire risk, the owner of the property may still be liable under North Carolina premises liability doctrine for fire injuries.
What can you reasonably expect to recover?
First of all, everyone at Speaks Law Firm wants to say we’re happy to hear your grandmother didn’t suffer any permanent injury from the fire incident. However, a night in the emergency room recovering from smoke inhalation isn’t a pleasant experience. Your grandmother suffered inconvenience, pain, and fear, and may yet be billed for medical services not covered by Medicare or Medicaid. She deserves compensation for those losses.
Our Wilmington fire injury lawyers are interested in hearing more about this case and learning more details about the incident, or any similar cases. Call us at 877-593-4233 at your earliest convenience and we will schedule a FREE confidential consultation. Your grandmother is being charged an enormous sum every month for her nursing home stay, and it is a hideous injustice that her safety was compromised recently. We definitely are interested in being your partner in getting her the fair compensation she deserves.