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Can You Sue a Landlord for a Fire?

You may be able to sue a landlord for a fire in Illinois if the fire was caused by the landlord’s negligence or failure to maintain the property in a safe condition. In such a case, the tenant may be able to recover damages for any injuries or property losses that occurred as a result of the fire. However, the tenant would need to prove that the landlord was at fault to win the case. If a tenant’s negligence causes a house fire, the tenant may be responsible for some or all of the damages.

A premises liability lawyer can help you to understand the legal process and the strength of your case.

Common Reasons You May Be Able to Sue a Landlord for a Fire

A landlord may be sued after a fire for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Building code violations
  • Lack of working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, or fire alarms
  • Faulty electrical wiring, outlets, or panels
  • Malfunctioning heating equipment
  • Blocked fire escapes

When Is a Landlord Liable for Damages?

A landlord is liable for damages caused by a fire if he or she has been negligent in maintaining the premises and the negligence led to a fire. The landlord may be held liable even if he or she did not intend to cause the injury. An injured tenant has the burden of proving that the landlord was negligent. The elements of legal negligence include:

  1. The Landlord had a duty to reasonably maintain the property
  2. The landlord knew or should have known of the dangerous condition
  3. The landlord breached his or her duty by failing to repair or fix the dangerous condition
  4. The landlord’s breach caused the tenant to suffer an injury
  5. The tenant suffered actual damages resulting from the injury

These standards of negligence apply to all types of injuries, whether they are from a fire or some other cause, such as a slip and fall. Despite the cause of injury, these are common factors that a court will look at in any personal injury lawsuit to determine if the landlord was negligent.

Understanding a Landlord’s Duty of Care

Landlords of residential properties owe tenants a duty of care for maintaining the premises in a safe and livable condition. Some ways landlords are required to uphold this duty include properly maintaining common areas such as hallways, stairways, pools, gyms, and laundry facilities, warning tenants and visitors about hidden dangers on the property, complying with local ordinances, and resolving known hazards to prevent injuries.

A breach of the duty of care occurs when the landlord’s care falls below what is required in his or her duty. Failing to make a timely repair, for example, would be a breach of his or her duty.

For a personal injury claim to move forward, it is not enough to just have a breach of the duty of care. You must also show that the breach of the duty of care caused the injury. There are two legal tests for determining causation: the ”but for” test, and proximate cause. The “but for” test asks, “but for the actions of the defendant, would the injury have happened?” The proximate cause test, on the other hand, is based on whether the defendant could have reasonably foreseen that his or her actions might cause an injury.

Finally, for a successful personal injury claim, there must be damages. This means there was some loss or damage sustained because of the negligent action, and that the court would be able to compensate the plaintiff.

When Are a Landlord’s Actions Considered Negligence Per Se?

In some cases, a landlord may be guilty of negligence per se if he or she broke certain laws. In these cases, an injured tenant will not have to prove that the landlord acted unreasonably. To prove negligence per se, you will need to show that:

  • The landlord violated a law
  • The purpose of the law is to protect tenants
  • The injuries are of the type the law was supposed to prevent, and
  • That the landlord’s violation of the law caused the injuries

When Might Tenants be Liable?

If a tenant’s own behavior or actions play a role in causing a fire or another type of injury, the tenant may be fully or partially liable for the injury. A court may allocate responsibility between the parties based on comparative fault or contributory fault theories.

Comparative Fault Liability

If the court applies the comparative fault approach, a percentage of responsibility will be assigned to each party. For example, if a tenant falls down the stairs and is injured, but the court believes the tenant leaving items at the top of the stairs contributed to the injury, the court may assign 60% of the blame on the landlord and 40% on the tenant. The court may then reduce the injured party’s award, or in some cases not award anything, if the tenant’s responsibility is greater than the landlord’s.

Contributory Fault

Contributory fault differs from comparative fault in that under a contributory fault approach, the court will not award anything to the tenant if the court finds that the tenant was even 1% responsible for the injuries. This means if the tenant in any way contributed to the injury, the landlord will not have to pay anything. Since this rule is so harsh, very few courts apply the contributory fault approach.

What Damages May Be Recovered in a Lawsuit Against a Landlord?

If a tenant is able to successfully sue a landlord for a fire in Illinois, and prove that the landlord was negligent or failed to maintain the property in a safe condition, he or she may be able to recover a variety of damages. Some examples of damages that may be recovered include:

Medical expenses: If the tenant or any other individuals were injured in the fire, they may be able to recover the cost of medical treatment, including hospital stays, surgeries, and physical therapy. This includes the cost of long term treatment, and any associated prescriptions or medical equipment.

Lost wages: If the tenant was unable to work as a result of the fire, he or she may be able to recover lost wages.

Pain and suffering: The actual physical pain experienced by the injured party and suffering related to the pain and disability.

Emotional distress: If the tenant suffered emotional distress as a result of the fire, such as fear, anxiety, or depression, he or she may be able to recover damages for that distress.

Loss of use: If the tenant is unable to continue living in the rental property because of the fire, he or she may be able to recover damages for the loss of use of the property.

The amount of damages that will be awarded will be determined by the court, based on the evidence presented in the case. A premises liability lawyer can help you understand what compensation you may be able to receive.

Wrongful Death Claims Against Landlords

If a fire or another accident, such as a building collapse, results in the death of a loved one, the family of the deceased or a personal representative of the estate may be able to file a wrongful death claim. In Illinois, a wrongful death claim may result from either negligent or intentional acts. Some of the damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death suit include medical bills, funeral expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of future wages.

How Long Will Your Claim Take?

How long it takes to recover compensation will depend on several factors. Your case may take longer to resolve if it is more complex, if there are questions about who is liable, and if there is a large amount of money involved. If your case goes to trial, it may take significantly longer to receive compensation.

Should You Settle or Go to Trial?

There are several reasons that you may wish to settle your case without going to trial. In many cases, parties want to settle to avoid the lengthier timeframes and higher costs associated with litigation. There is also greater risk involved when going to trial. You may want to avoid the risk of losing the entire case by settling for a lesser amount. On the other hand, taking your case to trial can sometimes result in a much larger monetary award.

What Other Reasons Might Tenants Have to Sue a Landlord?

There are other reasons why a tenant may choose to sue his or her landlord. Some common reasons for tenant-landlord lawsuits include:

  • Unlawful eviction or lock-out
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Failure to disclose known defects or hazards in the property.

An Illinois lawyer with experience in landlord tenant issues can help you determine if you have a case.

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