It ranks among the top fears of any homeowner - a house fire. The news is filled with reports of homes going up in flames, sometimes to a total loss of property and sometimes to a loss of life. Whenever we hear of a house fire, we always want to know one important fact: how
did it start?
Home fires are common and can have any number of causes. The most common causes for residential fires are cooking, heating, smoking, electrical, and open flames such as unattended candles. These types of fires are considered unintentional and accidental, though there may be legal liability issues as a result. A small percentage of fires are intentionally set, making a structural fire and any resulting injuries or deaths into a criminal matter.
Recently, an Evansville family experienced a house fire caused by an overloaded
power strip. Among the items plugged into the strip was a window air conditioner, which caused the strip to overheat and sparked a fire. While the family was able to escape the burning home with only minor injuries, they are currently displaced due to the severity of the fire damage.
As the fourth leading cause of house fires, electrical fires result in over $817 million in direct property damage each year. And while that's an astounding dollar figure, it doesn't take into account the devastating cost of human injuries or fatalities. Home fires cause seven fatalities per day in the United States, and a full 25% of these fatal fires begin in a bedroom, as was the case above. The Evansville family was extremely fortunate to escape unharmed.
Causes of electrical fires
Because electricity is part of our daily lives, we tend to take it for granted. However, electricity can be dangerous if mishandled or misused, and it's helpful to be aware of the many ways electrical fires can begin, including:
- Faulty electrical outlets
- Outdated appliances, particularly those with worn or frayed cords
- Running cords under rugs
- Removing grounding plug from a cord to allow it to fit in a two-prong outlet
- Light fixtures installed with bulbs with too high a wattage for the fixture
- Cloth or paper placed over a lampshade
- Appliances plugged into extension cords
- Overloaded extension cords
- Outdated wiring
- Outdated breaker boxes
Fires that are electrical in nature are more common during extremely hot or cold weather. Overtaxed electrical systems struggling to keep residents comfortable, overloaded extension cords or power strips, or outdated building wiring can spark a residential fire. In fact, electrical fires account for 13% of all home structure fires in the United States. Prevention is the surest way to protect your home and family from such an event.
How to protect yourself from an electrical fire
- Make sure there are working smoke detectors on each level of the home, particularly outside bedrooms
- Do not overload extension cords or power strips
- Do not plug appliances into extension cords or power strips
- Do not run extension cords under rugs
- Do not alter plugs
- Replace any electrical item that has an outdated or frayed cord
- Inspect home wiring for age and wear, and replace if damaged
- Use light bulbs with the proper wattage in all fixtures
If you or a loved one is injured in a house fire, you may seek legal recourse, depending on the circumstances. If a fire is caused by defective electrical equipment, you may seek compensation from the manufacturer or other responsible parties. Ownership of the structure can have some bearing in determining responsibility for a house fire, as well. A landlord who has not followed current fire code standards for residential units may incur some liability in a structure fire. If you are a tenant in such a situation, you may be able to seek damages for your loss and injuries. Conversely, if you are a landlord, you may be eligible for a settlement for a fire caused by your tenants. Determining responsibility and legal recourse is a job best left to an attorney experienced in personal injury law.
While we hope that you never have to navigate the aftermath of a house fire, the team here at Gerling Law stands ready to assist you in protecting your legal rights.