If I am a victim of an apartment fire caused by a malfunctioning furance, can I sue my landlord?

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If I am a victim of an apartment fire caused by a malfunctioning furance, can I sue my landlord?

On 11/08/10 the apartment I rented was damaged by fire. The furnace in the apartment next to me was out of order. The resident in that apartment had reported the malfunction at least 8 times to management and the maintenance staff had indicated that the furnace was working. On the day of the fire the maintenance staff claimed to have fixed the furnace around 10 am and at 4:15 pm the furnace “blew” and the apartment was engulfed with flames. My apartment was completely damaged by smoke. The Fire Marshall ruled the fire was started by a faulty furnace. Now my children and I have no home.

Asked on November 19, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Ohio

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You could sue the landlord for negligence for failing to properly repair the furnace.  Negligence is based on exercising due care (in this case, that degree of care that a reasonable landlord would have exercised) to prevent foreseeable harm.  It was foreseeable that a fire may result from a faulty furnace.  You would have to prove that the landlord breached the duty of care owed to you by failing to properly repair the furnace in the next apartment.  After establishing breach of the duty of care, you will need to prove both actual cause and proximate cause.  Actual cause means but for the landlord not properly repairing the furnace, would the smoke from the fire have damaged your apartment?  The answer here is no which means you have established actual cause.  Proximate cause means were there any intervening events that were unforeseeable that would relieve the landlord of liability?  The answer here is no because it was foreseeable that smoke from a fire in a faulty furnace would damage other apartments.  Therefore, you have established proximate cause.  You have now established a case for negligence against the landlord. The Fire Marshal's report will provide evidence supporting your claim for negligence against the landlord.  Your damages should include the cost of moving to another apartment and the loss of your personal property damaged by smoke.  With regard to your personal property, the landlord might claim that he or she is not liable for the contents of your apartment.


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