Lear Werts represented the family of a man killed in Platte County, Missouri during a fire that consumed his apartment building. The fire in question began on the porch of a first-floor apartment. The fire spread through the exterior wall and into that apartment. Fortunately, the occupants of that apartment were able to safely evacuate and raise the alarm. All other residents, save one, were also able to safely evacuate in the minutes following the building’s smoke detectors sounding. Unfortunately, our client’s son was not able to safely get out. Following discovery as the case was preparing for trial, the parties were able to reach a settlement that was ultimately approved by the trial court.
After filing suit, Lear Werts worked with multiple experts to evaluate the construction of the apartment complex at issue. The firm’s building inspector identified a number of potential issues with the building. Those issues were then evaluated by a qualified expert in the mechanics of building fire and combustion. That expert opined that several issues came together to cause this tragedy. One of the primary issues was in the design of the heating and cooling system which allowed smoke and other poisonous gasses to infiltrate our client’s son’s apartment more quickly than the building codes are planned to permit. Our expert’s theory was that this infiltration robbed the decadent of the time he needed to make it safely outside like the other residents.
Many people do not realize that the primary purpose of most building codes is to save lives. In this case, a small change to an otherwise safe system probably cost a man his life. The change at issue was the sort of thing that could work in a single-family home. But in a multi-family home, where a fire can start in a much greater distance from where the smoke and other products of combustion can travel than in a single-family home, this change deprived each of the apartments of being able to act like the multi-hour “lifeboat” planned for by modern building codes. Additionally, a cosmetic decision regarding exterior building materials was also believed by the firm’s fire expert to have contributed to the fatal blaze.