Posts Tagged ‘fires’

May 18 roundup

September 30 roundup

  • “Sexting” Wisconsin prosecutor to resign [AP, AtL] Was bar discipline too lax? A contrarian view [Esenberg]
  • Update: jury finds “caffeine killer” guilty in wife’s death [CBS, earlier]
  • Not an Onion story: “New Orwellian Tax Scheme in England Would Require All Paychecks Go Directly to the Tax Authority” [Dan Mitchell, Cato]
  • “The Fight Over Fire Sprinklers in New Homes” [Popular Mechanics via Fountain, earlier]
  • Pre-Miranda interrogation of (no relation) Jimmy Olsen [another legally-themed comic book cover from the series at Abnormal Use]
  • Slow customer service at pizza restaurant deemed “sabotage” in employment suit [Fox, Jottings]
  • Website offers defendants’ perspective on some of the Enron prosecutions [Ungagged.net via Kirkendall]
  • Pedestrian killed by out-of-control driver, and jury awards $37 million against California municipality for not having built sidewalks [six years ago on Overlawyered]

Deep pockets files: 1956 edition

Decedent, Lloyd A. Wiseman, a vice president of a San Francisco bank, died of asphyxiation and burns in a hotel room in New York City. He was in that city on bank business, and his traveling expenses, including his hotel bills, were paid by the bank. A woman, not his wife but registered as such, was found unconscious in his room and died shortly thereafter. There was evidence that they had been drinking. Sometime between 4 and 5 in the morning of his death, Wiseman telephoned the hotel manager for help because of a fire in his room. After calling the fire department, the manager went to the room but was unable to open the door with his passkey. Firemen arrived shortly thereafter and broke into the room but were too late to save the occupants. It was the opinion of the assistant fire marshal that the fire was caused by careless smoking by either one or both of the occupants.

The California Supreme Court went on to hold that Wiseman’s widow and children were entitled to death benefits from his employer because his death “was proximately caused by the employment”—a remarkable definition of proximate cause. The Court reasoned that Wiseman might have died while entertaining a legitimate guest in the hotel room (at 4 in the morning?), so the fact that the death occurred in the course of nookie was irrelevant. That seems to me to prove too much: Wiseman might have died smoking in his bed at home, too, and he just happened to be in a hotel when his bad habits killed him. But this was part of Judge Traynor’s successful remaking of tort law in the 1950’s, and the death of proximate cause is a large part why we have the mess we have today. Wiseman v. Industrial Acc. Com. (1956) 46 Cal. 2d 570.

(You can tell that this is still over fifty years ago, though, because the widow didn’t sue the hotel or cigarette company.)

Claim: furniture makers responsible for firefighters’ anguish

Nine firefighters died in a blaze at a Charleston, S.C., furniture store in 2007. Now four other firefighters who were on the scene that night, along with two of their wives, have filed a lawsuit claiming emotional distress and depression. They have chosen to sue “the Sofa Super Store, its owners and several furniture manufacturers,” the latter on the theory that their wares should have been made of less combustible materials. [Charleston City Paper, with links to complaints, via Sheila Scheuerman, TortsProf] On the erosion of the old “firefighters’ rule” which prevented rescuers from suing over injuries sustained in the course of their rescues, see our tag on the subject. On the development of lawsuits attributing liability after fires to whole groups of makers of furniture and other furnishings on the ground that they furnished fuel for the conflagration, see this retrospective (scroll) on the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire of 1977, and, relatedly, our posts on the “Great White” Rhode Island concert fire.

“[O]ur entire world is a potentially dangerous place in which to live”

Dismissing a suit claiming that cigarettes and upholstery should have been flameproof, a Kentucky federal judge last month had this to say:

No court has found that there is a duty to make our world fool-proof or risk free. Nor is there a duty to warn of obvious consequences of foolish behavior.

In this case, we will reject the opportunity to hold that just because something could happen, failure to prevent it is unreasonable….

Nothing this court can do will change what happened. But we are obliged to ensure that the law is applied dispassionately, and in a principled way.

[Patrick at Popehat]

Update: Insurance law Hall of Fame

“An insurance company with a potential $25 million liability from a fatal 2007 Houston office fire announced [Jan. 21] that it will drop its legal argument” that it shouldn’t have to pay for smoke inhalation deaths because they supposedly resulted from “pollution”, a risk excluded under the policy, as opposed to the actual flames. [Houston Chronicle; earlier].

Insurance law Hall of Fame

“An insurance company with a potential $25 million liability from a 2007 Houston office fire is claiming smoke that killed three people was ‘pollution’ and surviving families shouldn’t be compensated for their losses since the deaths were not caused directly by the actual flames. Great American Insurance Company is arguing in a Houston federal court that the section of the insurance policy that excludes payments for pollution — like discharges or seepage that require cleanup — would also exclude payouts for damages, including deaths, caused by smoke, or pollution, that results from a fire.” (Mary Flood, “Insurance loophole claimed in fire deaths”, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 17).