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Wrongful death lawsuit?

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My father lived in a townhouse complex where the neighbor's unit had an electrical fire in the shared wall.  My father's unit was not burned but there was extensive smoke damage.  A company came in and "cleaned" the unit but my father was not relocated.  Three weeks later he was dead from pneumonia, found on his dining room floor where he had been living since the fire since it was farthest away from the burned unit.  AFter his death my sister and I went in to clean things out and could not even enter the unit without opening windows from the smoke smell.  Also came across large patches of black mold and had the air tested, large quantities of toxic black mold found.  We talked with a friend who is a fire chief and he told us to get a lawyer and sue the complex for wrongful death.  Just wondering if it is worth the time and effort -- we are still grieving our dad's loss and so angry that he was living in these circumstances.  Thank you!

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My condolensces for your loss.

 

 

A company came in and "cleaned" the unit but my father was not relocated.

 

Cleaned which unit?  Your father's or the neighbor's?  Did he ask to be relocated?  Why would he need someone to "relocate" him?  In other words, if he thought it was necessary for him to move out while the cleaning and repairs were being done, why didn't he do it himself?

 

As far as a wrongful death suit, it's not really clear what you're contending caused his death.  Was an autopsy done?  If not, is it too late to request one?  If you're claiming that smoke inhalation was the cause of death, then a natural (albeit imperfect) defense would be that he should have opened the windows.

 

Here's another hard reality about wrongful death suits:  suits filed by or on behalf of adult children who were not being supported by the deceased (I'm assuming that's the case here) aren't terribly valuable because there are no damages that have any basis in reality.  By way of explanation, if the deceased is a person earning $150k per year with a spouse and three kids, it's much easier to quantify damages in terms of loss of support.

 

With that said, it certainly can't hurt to consult with a local attorney for an evaluation of a possible claim.

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His unit was cleaned; the neighbor was relocated to a different unit.

 

The fire chief we talked to said there are poisonous gases released for a long time after a fire, including cyanide and that those can directly cause pneumonia.  He told us the air should have been tested before allowing my father to remain in the unit.  

 

Thanks for your input, we are going to go ahead and talk to a personal injury attorney and see if they think we have a case but I am not feeling very hopeful that anyone will take it on.

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And does this fire chief friend work in the department in question, or another jurisdiction?  If elsewhere, can he ascertain through the grapevine whether the relevant fire department warned your father or the owner of your father's unit about X-Y-Z?  ... why they didn't issue a temporary condemnation of your father's place?  'cause if none of those things happened, I'd be looking to the fire department for nonfeasance, or perhaps "the company" you mention that cleaned the place (if it was a company that touted post-fire remediation issues, that would be even worse ... vs. a simple "cleaning company")  

 

From the conditions you describe, your father would seem to have been legally incompetent either before or as of the fire to avoid the conclusion that he shouldn't stay there.

 

You don't say how this fire chief friend concluded that "the complex" is the party to sue either, even if it is a "complex" that is a landlord/property manager that rents out ALL the townhouses or merely your father's place.  Can't know what they knew or "should have" known that your father didn't. 

 

"Three weeks later he was dead from pneumonia, found on his dining room floor where he had been living since the fire since it was farthest away from the burned unit."

I don't see any argument that you all have that his death can be attributed to a third party's failure to act (aside from the fire department, or a landlord if the landlord knew about the issue). 

 

"We talked with a friend who is a fire chief and he told us to get a lawyer and sue the complex for wrongful death."

I'm afraid it's not quite that simple, but you're certainly free to talk with a few personal injury attorneys (I'd counsel against just one).

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The fire chief we talked to said there are poisonous gases released for a long time after a fire, including cyanide and that those can directly cause pneumonia.  He told us the air should have been tested before allowing my father to remain in the unit.

 

Here's the problem.  I didn't know that, and apparently neither did you or your father, so there's probably no reason to think the landlord knew this unless someone from the fire department told the landlord (which I assume you would have mentioned if you had reason to believe it happened).

 

In any event, consulting with an attorney is the only way you're going to get clear counsel on this.

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Thank you for your thoughtful responses.  The fire chief is one in California, not Texas where the fire happened, my sister and I both live in California.  I am not sure what drew him to the conclusion that the complex is at fault, his only comment was to get a lawyer -- my assumption was that he meant the owner/property manager.  

 

We are trying to get some information from the fire station that handled the fire.  We have repeatedly asked the complex for the documentation of the cleaning service report (it was a post-fire remediation service) as well as the air quality report they say they have but that we have not seen.  

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Even if in CA, the fire chief would be a great way to get access to relevant details through brethren in Texas.

 

"We are trying to get some information from the fire station that handled the fire."

I'd ask the fire chief friend to do this; he will meet with much better results (if he hasn't offered, who knows whether he means that to be a signal not to ask).

 

I wouldn't be pestering the "complex" about this and giving them a heads-up.  If you know what you know about the air quality simply as a layperson, I'd leave it at that for the moment.  Leave it to counsel to worry about the rest.

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This  response is not intended to create an attorney-client

relationship.

 

Some personal injury attorneys might actually consult with an

expert/engineer to attempt to corroborate how much of what

your California fireman buddy's opinion was accurate.  

Experts don't usually work for free.

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I don't think you ever circled back to the topic of an autopsy.  Certainly, if there was water damage from the firefighters' efforts next door and the drywall and what not weren't removed to proactively prevent mold, that might become a problem (too), but I'd wonder at why your father wouldn't have sought medical intervention if he was dead from pneumonia (and that is certain, or just someone's knee-jerk post-death diagnosis?) within 21 days. 

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So sorry for your loss.  Stuff like this shouldn't happen.  It is almost certain that there was an autopsy on an unattended death like this one.  The cause of death should be identified in the autopsy report - and you should be able to get a copy of that report assuming that you are next of kin.  If exposure to mold (or a problem resulting from such exposure) is listed as the cause of death, then you may have some claims against the way the fire remediation took place.  Mold inside walls is a serious and dangerous problem after water (and chemicals) are used to abate a fire.  You seem convinced that your Dad was moving as far away as he could from the area of the fire in his home because he knew instinctively that something resulting from the area of the fire was causing him to feel sick.  That might have been the result of a deadly mold.  You probably should obtain the assistance of an attorney in Texas near the area where the wrongful death occurred in order to get some help in fully investigating the facts of what happened.

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In my opinion Personal injury Attorney can save you time and expense in the long run. They help in serving the rights of individuals who have been injured or loss of the property. They don't demand any initial fee untill you'll win the case.

Edited by FindLaw_Kevin
As per the Community Guidelines, links to personal web pages or blogs may be included in the signature line. Other personal or identifying information in this post has been removed. -Moderator

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