What to do if the city failed to board up an abandoned house and my home next door was destroyed as a result?

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What to do if the city failed to board up an abandoned house and my home next door was destroyed as a result?

An arsonist burned down next door. The fire spread to my house and it ruined our home and every possession that we had. Can we sue the city for their years of neglect and apathy?

Asked on May 27, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Pennsylvania


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

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

The city may have an administrative claims procedure that you may need to follow prior to filing your lawsuit against the city.  If there is a mandatory administrative claims procedure, don't miss any filing deadlines or you might not be able to proceed with a lawsuit after the administrative claim is denied.  Administrative claims against a city are usually denied.

Your lawsuit against the city would be for negligence; however, there may be some problems in proving negligence on the part of the city.  Negligence is the failure to exercise due care (that degree of care that in this case a reasonable city would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances to prevent foreseeable harm).

In order to prove negligence, you will need to prove duty (of due care) mentioned above, breach of duty (failure to exercise due care), actual cause, proximate cause and damages.

Actual cause means but for the city not boarding up the abandoned house, would your house have been destroyed in the fire?  If the answer is no, actual cause has been established.  The problem here is that even if the city had boarded up the house, the flames still would have spread to your house.  So, it may be difficult to prove actual cause.

Proximate cause means were there any unforeseeable, intervenng acts which would relieve the city of liability?  If the answer is no, proximate cause has been established.  It may be difficult to prove proximate cause because the city could claim that the arsonist burning the abandoned house was an unforeseeable, intervening act which would relieve the city of liability.

If you do prevail in the negligence case, your damages (compensation you are seeking in your lawsuit for negligence), would be the loss of your house and its contents.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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