Case Study-Property Management: Fire Lawsuit

Published on April 7, 2010 in Case Studies | No Comments


    While moving into a condominium on the 32nd floor of a high rise building, boxes filled with cooking books are placed on the smooth ceramic stove top surface. Other boxes are placed on the adjacent counter top surfaces and along the kitchen floor. In the haste of the move, and unknown to the movers, a box is accidentally pushed against the stove’s burner control, turning it to the “HIGH” position. As the movers leave the unit to get more boxes from the truck, the box heats and soon ignites into fire. In a matter of moments, the fire spreads to all the boxes on the counter tops. When the movers return a few minutes later, they discover the unit engulfed in flames. Smoke fills the hallway and sets off the building fire alarm. The movers close the door and shout, “Fire!” as they bang on doors and race to the stairwell. Residents on the floor, hearing the fire alarm and shouts, and seeing and smelling smoke in their condo units, quickly evacuate the floor and find safety as they walk down the stairwell.


    The buildings fire alarm is blasting away. Within 4 minutes of the alarm going off, the fire department has arrived on the scene with what appears to be dozens of emergency vehicles and first responders. Sirens and lights are flashing, and a growing crowd of people has gathered outside to watch. A helicopter can be seen hovering at roof top height and adds to the excitement. Fire in the condo quickly spread to the other boxes in the unit and the heat and flames broke the large bay window in the living room. A large plume of flames can be seen coming out of the window from the street below.

    On the 22nd floor, ten floors below the fire floor, an elderly widow (well out of harms way and perfectly safe within her unit) is concerned by the sound of the alarm. As she looks out the window and sees all the emergency vehicles and the growing crowd of people, she decides that she should evacuate the building. She knows not to use the elevator, so she heads to the stairwell. Others are also walking down the stairs. As she makes her way down, she quickly fatigues. She stops to rest, but feeling the pressure to keep moving as others pass her by, she pushes on. Another resident grabs her arm and tries to help her along. She is quickly overcome by the activity, collapses, and dies.

A Family Grieves

    Devastated by the death of their mother and grandmother, a family is grieving. The mother of four and grandmother of six was being remembered as a wonderful woman. She had been selfless in life. Always giving of herself to her family, friends, and neighbors. She attended church every Sunday and served in the nursery, was active at the senior center, and until recently, was one of several volunteer cooks at a homeless shelter. Hundreds attended her funeral and many asked questions, “Why did she evacuate?” and “Why didn’t the building management tell her to stay in her condo?”


    Angered that their mother had left the safety of her condominium unit to unnecessarily evacuate the building down the stairwell, the children filed a lawsuit against the property management company of the high rise building. The lawsuit made several claims of wrongful death and negligence:

    • Property management, as evidence by the fire alarm, as well as other verbal announcements, told the residents to evacuate their condominium units when it was unnecessary to do so.
    • Property management should have known that she was frail and in need of assistance during an emergency.
    • Property management failed to provide the proper training for what to do in the event of a fire, whether in her unit or elsewhere in the building.
    • Property management failed to assist the woman with a safe means of evacuation that would not have caused her to fatigue and die.
    • Property management failed to communicate effectively with the residents.

    As with many cases of this type, the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money, but to the satisfaction of the family members.

Lessons Learned

  • Implement easy-to-understand and easy-to-access online fire safety videos and task sheets that can be accessed by each resident or facilitated by property managers in the management office for those residents who are not online.
  • Fire Safety plans should include at least three areas:
    • What to do if the fire is in your unit.
    • What to do if the fire is in the building, but not in your unit.
    • How to evacuate the building.
  • Use TRM On Demand to automatically maintain records of who is and who is not viewing the fire safety plans. Automatically send out periodic email reminders to remind residents to view the fire safety plans and alert them to updates or changes to the fire safety plan.
  • Use TRM On Demand to maintain a secure and easily accessed record of people with special needs so that property management and first responders know where they are and what needs they may have in an emergency.
  • Implement silent alarms that alert property management, the alarm service, and the fire department. Rather then have an alarm sound throughout the entire building, causing unnecessary evacuations and possible injury, let first responders make the call about who should evacuate: either full or partial building evacuation.
  • Use a public address system to speak to people during the emergency and inform them about what is happening and what action they should take.
  • Post a notice on the buildings’ closed-circuit TV channel that residents can turn to to give them messages about what is happening.
  • Use automated text messages, email alerts, and voice messages to inform residents of what is happening and what to do.


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