U.S. fire departments responded to a fire every 24 seconds during 2019. (1) The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) notes, “A civilian was fatally injured in a fire every two hours and 22 minutes. Every 32 minutes, a civilian suffered a non-fatal fire injury.” (2) The NFPA adds, “On average, a home structure fire was reported every 93 seconds.” (3)

Additionally, “In 2019, the 264,500 (20 percent) one- or two-family home structure fires caused 2,390 (65 percent) civilian fire deaths, 8,800 (53 percent) civilian fire injuries, and $6.4 billion (43 percent) in direct property damage.” (4)

New York City Fires

The New York City Fire Department Citywide Statistics Annual Report for 2018 indicated 27,053 structural fires and 13,730 nonstructural fires for the year. (5)

Of those fires, 1,983 were classified as serious incidents.

These incidents were further broken down in terms of response:

  • 1,797 were “All Hands” (requires engagement of 4 or more fire units).
  • 135 were 2nd alarm.
  • 31 were 3rd alarm.
  • 11 were 4th alarm.
  • 9 were 5th alarm or greater. (6)

The New York City Fire Department reports 1,985 structural and 976 nonstructural fires citywide for June 2019 alone. (7)

Of the 141 total citywide serious fire incidents:

  • 133 were “All Hands”.
  • 3 were 2nd alarm.
  • 4 were 3rd alarm.
  • 1 was a 4th alarm incident. (8)

Alarming statistics like these raise questions about the different types, classifications, and causes of fires.

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Types and Classifications of Fires

There are many types of fires, including;

  • Building.
  • Workplace.
  • Vehicle.
  • Defective product.
  • Electrical accident.

For tracking purposes, fires are often classified by where they occur: residential, nonresidential, and vehicle/outside. (9)

Causes of Residential Fires

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) tracks fire trends nationwide. Their 2019 estimates are 1,900 fatal residential fires and 7,000 residential fire injuries. (10)

Among the common causes of these residential fires are: (11)

  • Appliances.
  • Cooking.
  • Electrical malfunction.
  • Equipment failure/incorrect operation.
  • Exposure.
  • Heating.
  • Open flame.
  • Smoking.
  • Unintentional/careless.

More than half of residential building fires were caused by cooking. Heating caused 9.3% of residential fires, while unintentional/careless caused 7.7%, and electrical malfunction caused 6.8%. (12)

It turns out, “Residential is the leading property type for fire deaths (72.2%), fire injuries (76.4%) and fire dollar loss (46.4%).” (13)

Causes of Nonresidential Fires

USFA’s 2019 estimates for nonresidential fires was 110,900.

Among the leading causes for these fires were: (14)

  • Cooking — 29.9%.
  • Unintentional/careless — 11.5%.
  • Electrical malfunction — 7.3%.

Causes of Vehicle and Outside Fires

USFA also estimated there were 223,000 vehicle fires and 492,500 outside fires in 2019. (15) The causes of a majority of both the vehicle and outside fires were unintentional or undetermined.

Yet, 19.7% of vehicle fires were due to equipment failure, and 4.0% were intentional. Likewise, 19.9% of outside fires were intentional and 4.4% were acts of nature. (16)

The Cause of a Fire Matters

The cause of a fire helps determine who bears legal responsibility for damage from the fire. In short, who has to pay.

For example, say you are driving a new car you purchased only two months ago. The engine catches fire and it causes you to have an accident.

Manufacturers can be held accountable for damage and injury from fires caused when their products malfunction during ordinary use or are defective. The manufacturer of the car likely has to pay for the damages, since you have not owned it for very long it is unlikely it failed due to a lack of regular maintenance.

As another example, let’s say your job as an electrician for a utility company requires you to work with electrical wires. Your supervisor is supposed to warn you when those wires are live.

One day, an electrical fire breaks out from wires you were not told were live. You are badly burned. Your injuries are so severe you cannot go back to your job. In this scenario, your company has to pay you compensation for your injuries, since they did not provide adequate supervision by warning you of the live wire danger.

Regardless of the causes of a fire, injuries can be serious, even fatal.

Common Fire Accident Injuries

Fire injuries are some of the most damaging and painful injuries. Recovery is often lengthy and expensive, involving multiple treatments over many years.

The most common injuries from fires are:

  • Burn injuries — These injuries are caused by contact with heat or flames from a fire or explosion. Burn injuries are classified as 1st through 4th degree based upon the number of layers of skin affected. Another factor is whether or not underlying bone and tissues are damaged. (17)
  • Inhalation injuries or lung damage — “Smoke inhalation injuries occur when a patient’s respiratory system is exposed to direct heat from fire as well as toxic chemicals that are formed from the decomposition of materials during combustion.” (18)
  • Death — “The leading cause of death from fire injuries remains a respiratory failure, and smoke inhalation injuries affect one-third of all burn injury victims,” according to one study. (19)

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Legal Options

If you have suffered serious injuries from a fire accident, you have legal options. An experienced attorney can help you explore those options and take the necessary steps to help you gain compensation for your suffering.

Fire accident injury cases can fall under negligence — a failure to “behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” (20)

Negligence can refer to the actions of a person or business, but it can also refer to their failure to act. (21)

Examples of Negligence

Landlords may be negligent in properly maintaining their property, equipment, electrical wiring, or smoke alarms. Another instance of negligence might be if you live in an apartment building without proper fire escape routes or fire extinguishers available.

An employer can also be negligent. Suppose your employer knows chemicals are being improperly stored in their plant, and these chemicals pose a fire hazard. Your employer has had plenty of time to correct the problem, but takes no action to do so, or inadequate corrections were made. Then a fire occurs.

Negligence cases can be very complex, requiring significant knowledge and experience to achieve your best possible outcome. Our personal injury attorneys have the experience needed to guide you through the legal process, help with insurance claims, negotiate your settlement, or represent you in court.

How W&L Can Help

Our firm has a committed team of attorneys who represent our clients’ interests in a wide range of negligence cases.

Here are two of our cases: