Recently, a woman suffered severe burns after a huge fire broke out at the Pleasantdale Apartments in DeKalb County. By the time firefighters arrived, massive flames had already engulfed half the building. Several people escaped by jumping from a second-story balcony; others banged on doors to alert others to the danger.
Residents described the experience as terrifying and it’s easy to understand why.
Apartment fires can quickly spread to multiple units. If it’s the middle of the night, many people may not realize they are in danger until it’s almost too late.
Even if a person escapes, they may suffer lung damage from smoke inhalation, severe burns, or blunt trauma injuries from falling debris or jumping to the ground to escape the intense flames.
An apartment fire that was caused by poor wiring, negligent building management, lack of proper maintenance, or other issues may allow injured victims to file a personal injury claim.
How Common Are Apartment Fires in Georgia?
Fires are uncommon, but their impact can be sudden and traumatic. Flames can spread fast, especially if the apartment buildings are constructed with cheap materials, lack concrete firebreaks between walls, or were allowed to fall into disrepair.
In 2021, there were 7.4 deaths and 13.9 injuries per 1,000 fire incidents involving residential structures in Georgia, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
The news media reported 69 home fire fatalities in 2022. As of June 2023, there have been at least 43 home fire deaths.
Types of Injuries Sustained in an Apartment Fire
There are several ways the human body can sustain injury due to fire or heat. Effects can range from mild to catastrophic or fatal.
Thermal damage contains four categories (degrees). The severity of a burn may also be determined by how much area of the body is affected, particularly if the face or genitals have been injured.
- First-degree burns: This injury may feel like a sunburn, with minor pain and redness on the top layer of the skin.
- Second-degree burns: This type of burn causes redness, swelling, and painful blisters that may result in bacterial infections. Healing often takes several weeks.
- Third-degree burns: Multiple layers of skin are charred, causing nerve damage. The damaged skin must be removed and replaced with skin grafts in order to heal properly.
- Fourth-degree burns: The skin, muscle, and sometimes bone are incinerated beyond recognition. This is a life-threatening injury that requires amputation and multiple surgeries. The risk of infection is incredibly high.
We go into more detail about treatment and compensation for burn injuries in a separate post.
Oftentimes, it’s not the fire that kills a person but smoke inhalation. Breathing injuries can be just as debilitating or deadly as burn injuries.
- Lack of oxygen: Fire consumes oxygen from the air at a rapid rate. Once the air is depleted, a trapped person begins to experience the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Smoke: Breathing in smoke fills the lungs with carbon, ash, and a multitude of toxic compounds and gases. This can cause permanent respiratory damage, obstruct breathing, and trigger seizures or comas.
- Hot gases: Superheated air and other gases can burn and scar the nasal passage, mouth, throat, and lung tissue. This can lead to sensory issues and lung problems.
Reporting a Burn Injury and Fire Incident
Most fire-related incidents are required by law to be reported to the State Fire Marshal.
Georgia Statute 25-2-32.1 requires a health professional to file a written report within 72 hours after treating a burn injury or wound, particularly ones that involve the following:
- Second or third-degree burns to 5% or more of the body
- Burns to the upper respiratory tract
- Laryngeal edema (damage to the throat and vocal cords) from inhaling superheated air
- Burn injury death
Managers or owners of a building covered under the Georgia Fire Safety Act must report every fire (accidental or incendiary) to the Safety Fire Division within 24 hours of the incident.
For victims injured in an apartment complex or condo fire, these reports create a paper trail of evidence they can use to support their personal injury claims during the investigation phase.
A Fire Injury Attorney Can Help Gather Evidence
Landlords aren’t exactly known for putting their tenants' best interests first. If you were injured in an apartment fire that wasn’t your fault, don’t sign anything from the insurance company or the building manager until after you speak with an attorney.
The State Fire Marshal’s Investigation Unit may uncover that the fire was started or exacerbated due to:
- electrical problems
- lack of maintenance
- blocked or clogged heating and ventilation units
- laundry room debris catching fire
- lack of fire alarms or working fire alarms
- lack of sprinkler systems or broken sprinkler systems
Debris or foliage blocking exits or fire hydrants may also create an issue for people trying to escape or firefighters attempting to put out the fire, which falls within the property manager’s responsibilities to keep clear.
Burns are painful injuries that require long-term care and therapy. These expenses can quickly add up for victims, not to mention the loss of personal items and place of residence.
Don’t let neglectful property management get out of paying the damages you are owed. You deserve to be fully compensated for your pain and suffering, as well as the full value of everything lost in the fire.
Contact our fire injury lawyers at Gary Martin Hays & Associates for a free consultation regarding your rights and the next steps you should take.