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Wrongful Death Claim from a Duplex Apartment Fire Results in $1 Million Mediation Result

Case name and number: Withheld
Principal injuries: Death
Special damages: $12,953.49 (funeral expenses)
Tried or settled: Mediation
County where tried or settled: Pitt County
Date concluded: April 19, 2007
Name of mediator: Marshall Gallop
Amount: $1 million
Insurance carrier: Nationwide
Expert witnesses and areas of expertise: Bernard Kromenacker of Raleigh, safety and fire expert
Attorney for plaintiff: Robert E. Whitley and Brian E. Clemmons of Whitley Law Firm, Kinston
Submitted by: Whitley Law Firm

Description: This wrongful death claim resulted from a duplex apartment fire in Raleigh which occurred on Oct. 7, 2005. The decedent, a graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Arts, was a sophomore at North Carolina State University at the time of the fire. He was survived by his parents, who reside in Pitt County.

The decedent arrived at his apartment late in the evening on Oct. 6, 2005, and went to bed in his third-floor bedroom shortly thereafter, as he had to return to his work the following day. There was a North Carolina State home football game on Oct. 6. As a result, there was a lot of partying going on at the duplex apartment by roommates and others both before and after the game. Based on the investigation conducted by the Raleigh Fire and Police Department, it was determined that the probable origin of the fire was a cigarette that had been left burning near or on the sofa in a second floor playroom.

Another third-floor resident was awakened by a smoke detector that had been placed in his room by his parents and was able to escape by jumping out of his window. Another third-floor resident was also killed in the fire. The decedent was one service project away from being an Eagle Scout, was a member of his high school’s National Honor Society and was well-respected in the community.

The basis of the negligence alleged was the failure of the landlord and property manager to have operable smoke detectors pursuant to the city code of Raleigh and the North Carolina General Statutes. The examination of the property by investigators for the fire and police department was inconclusive as to whether or not there were detectors or alarms in the apartment. There was conflicting testimony from other witnesses about the existence or nonexistence of operable smoke detectors.

The most compelling testimony according to the plaintiff was the testimony of the surviving tenant’s parents, who informed the decedent’s family that they had looked for smoke detectors upon moving their son into the apartment and, not having found any, purchased one for him for his room.

The defendants contended first, that there was no evidence that operable smoke detectors were not installed as required by the code and statute; secondly, that the decedent was also negligent by not notifying the property manager and landlord; and, lastly, that the decedent had no dependents and the potential damages would be limited.

The plaintiff’s evidence, which came from family members, community members, teachers, scout masters, church leaders, and professors, was that the decedent had a promising future and had good personal habits and conduct, including the fact that he did not smoke nor consume any alcoholic beverages whatsoever. His parents have established a foundation in his name for the purpose of providing college scholarships to North Carolina State University as well as making parents more aware of smoke detectors in student housing.