‘Fire! Grab What You Can!’

Eight Savannah residents are homeless following a daytime fire at an apartment complex.


All eight units at the Heron on the Bluff complex near White Bluff Road are uninhabitable, after four were damaged by the flames and four others by copious smoke. Authorities are unsure what started the fire, which began without warning and spread quickly. One displaced resident, Brooks Tolbert, said his only warning was a frantic knock at the door followed by a shout of “Fire! Grab what you can!” Another resident, Selena Hause, lamented that it was difficult to “find a new place to live with five minutes’ notice.” Many residents were exposed to the possibly toxic smoke.


The Red Cross arrived on scene to provide assistance, and management said it would provide temporary living quarters at a nearby sister apartment complex.


Duty in a Landowner Liability Case


To determine liability in a landowner negligence case, like a fire, slip-and-fall, or lack of building security, some courts use a “reasonable care” analysis like the one used in car crash cases.


But, the majority of courts still adhere to the common law classification system that assigns different duties to different sets of facts.


  • Trespasser: If the injured victim was on the land without permission, the landlord generally has a duty to refrain from intentional harm. The duty is higher in some cases, for example, if the trespasser is a child or consistent trespasser (like the same group of  hunters that wanders across the property line).


  • Licensee: If a visitor’s presence is authorized but does not benefit the landowner in any way, such as a tenant’s guest, the landowner must warn them about latent or hidden defects, like loose floorboards.


  • Invitee: Nearly all people are invitees, whether they are on the land for a business or social purpose. In these situations, the landowner has an affirmative duty to inspect the property and make it safe.


The attractive nuisance doctrine often applies to child trespassers, especially if the property is a vacant lot, swimming pool, or other place where children commonly play.


Breach in a Landowner Liability Case


Although there is the occasional “smoking gun,” in most landowner liability cases, breach must be established by circumstantial evidence. And for over the last hundred years, the landowner’s level of knowledge has been linked to the color of a discarded banana peel.


In Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company (1911), the plaintiff slipped on a banana peel at the Dudley Street terminal. The plaintiff claimed the railroad was negligent for not picking up the peel; the railroad countered that the station was extremely busy and it could not possibly have known about the peel.


At trial, a number of witnesses testified to the effect that the peel was “black, flattened out and gritty.” This evidence convinced the court that the peel had been on the floor for quite some time and the landowner should have known about it.


Today, if the loose stair rail or unsteady scaffolding had been there for quite some time, and especially if anyone else had complained, most courts view these things as circumstantial evidence of knowledge that proves liability.


Contact an Aggressive Lawyer


At the Wade Law Offices, we pride ourselves on being a strong voice for victims in and around Fayetteville. Contact our skilled personal injury claim attorneys in Fayetteville, GA today for a free consultation, because you have a limited amount of time to act.


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