We are proud to congratulate attorney Kevin J. Finnegan on his recent appellate victory in the case of Rivers v. Hagner Management Corporation, et al. Mr. Finnegan’s victory before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals will work to protect those parties injured due to the negligence of property owners. In this case, Plaintiff brought a negligence and premises liability action against the property owner in Prince George’s County, Maryland and the landlord responsible for designing and maintaining the apartment complex in which Plaintiff resided. The Plaintiff suffered burn injuries in a fire in the residence.
In the early morning hours of June 19, 2003, Plaintiff discovered that there was a fire in his apartment building, in the entrance/exit stairwell, which was the only exit from the apartment building. In his attempt to flee the building, Plaintiff suffered second degree burns to both of his lower limbs, requiring multiple skin grafts and incurred approximately medical expenses.
In order to prove a negligence case, a Plaintiff must prove that the Defendant owed a duty of care, that the Defendant breached the duty of care, and that the breach in the duty of care was a proximate cause of the injury. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants owed him the following duties: To maintain the apartment building in a safe condition; to provide a safe and unobstructed means of exiting the building in case of emergency, and a duty to obey all local regulations. Plaintiff further alleged that Defendants failed to live up to these duties when only one exit from the building was provided. Plaintiff’s position was that under the local fire code, two separate and distinct exits are required. Since only one exit was built into the building, and the fire was started at that exit, Plaintiff was not provided a second exit to escape the fire. This resulted in Plaintiff’s injuries.
During the discovery phase of the trial, Plaintiff relied upon one particular expert witness, who testified that during an inspection of the apartment complex, a number of violations of the local fire code were discovered. These included the fact that Defendants violated Prince George’s County, Maryland requirement that buildings such as this apartment complex have two separate exits. The expert testified that because there was only one exit, which was blocked at the time of the fire, Plaintiff was not given the chance to escape the fire before his injuries.
Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. Defendants alleged in their Motion for Summary Judgment that because the fire was started by an arsonist, it was not foreseeable by Defendants that an arsonist would start this fire, and that Plaintiff’s injuries would result. Defendants relied upon a line of cases that dealt with the failure to provide sufficient security to protect residents from injuries caused by the criminal acts of third parties. Mr. Finnegan filed a Response to this Motion for Summary Judgment, outlining how this case was not an issue of negligent security, but rather centered upon Defendants’ failure to provide the two separate and distinct exits as required by local regulations. After a hearing on the Motion for Summary Judgment, the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County granted Defendants’ Motion.
Undaunted, Mr. Finnegan filed a timely appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. On October 29, 2008, after reading the briefs of both sides and hearing oral argument, the Court of Special Appeals issued their ruling. The Court held that Defendants “had a duty to comply with the fire safety code, so as to minimize danger to its tenants from fires that might occur, regardless of their cause. The risk of fire is foreseeable.” Specifically, the Court stated:
It is patent that [Plaintiff] is within the class of persons that the Fire Code seeks to protect, and that the injuries he suffered are the kind the Fire Code is intended to prevent. The purpose of the two-exit requirement of the Life Safety Code is to obviate the danger of an apartment building’s “occupants attempting to use a single means of egress that is blocked by fire or smoke.”…That is exactly what allegedly occurred in this case. It was eminently foreseeable that, if a fire, whatever its origin, blocked the single exit to the Property, the occupants would be burned as they attempted to escape via that exit. That is the precise contingency the two-exit requirement is intended to address. [unspecified] v. Hagner Management Corporation, et al, as reported by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals sent the case back to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County for further proceedings.
This case is an important victory for all Maryland citizens. It also provides Maryland personal injury attorneys and lawyers with a better understanding of what they must establish to show that a particular statute applies, and that a statutory violation occurred. Under the Court’s ruling, landlords are required to adhere to all local fire regulations, including those that provide separate and distinct exits.
This appellate case is also evidence that the attorneys and trial lawyers at Goldberg Finnegan, LLC are willing to continue to fight for their clients even when facing long odds. It is often difficult to have a case reversed at the appellate level, yet Mr. Finnegan believed in his client, and his client’s case. This belief and conviction resulted in this appellate victory, and allowed for his client’s case to proceed to trial. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident contact a skilled personal injury attorney in Silver Spring for a free consultation. Call the attorneys at Goldberg Finnegan, LLC at (888) 213-8140 today for your free telephone consultation.