Smoke detectors save lives. Home fires typically ignite during the late evening or early morning hours, while the inhabitants are sleeping. In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), fully one-third of fatal residential fires take place between midnight and 5 a.m.
Working smoke alarms dramatically reduce the incidence of burn injuries and fatalities. The unmistakable blaring of a smoke alarm rouses sleeping residents and alerts them to imminent danger, enabling them to escape the structure before it’s too late. A functioning smoke alarm can turn an otherwise fatal fire into a survivable one.
The Disturbing Prevalence Of Smoke Alarms That Don’t Work
Most jurisdictions have strict regulations requiring smoke detectors in homes, rental properties, hotels and other buildings. Despite these regulations, however, many landlords and building owners still do not equip their buildings with adequate and functioning smoke detectors. Firefighters responding to fatal blazes often note the presence of ceiling-mounted smoke detectors — only to open them up and discover they do not have batteries.
Statistics illustrate the prevalence of this needless oversight. By 1995, 93 percent of homes in the United States were equipped with at least one smoke alarm, according to the USFA. However, only 74 percent of all homes had a working smoke alarm. The remaining 26 percent were completely unprotected.
Landlords and property owners can be held legally responsible if they fail to maintain appropriate fire-prevention measures, including smoke detectors. Likewise, product manufacturers may be responsible if the alarm failed to function as it should have.
Types of Smoke Detectors
There are three major types of smoke alarms that you should be aware of.
- Ionization detectors. These detectors include a chamber with two plates that produce electric currents. When smoke enters into this chamber, the electrical currents are disrupted, and the alarm is triggered.
- Photoelectric detectors. These detectors work by producing a beam of light that shines to a light receptor, or photocell. Working similarly to an ionization detector, when smoke enters the detector in disrupts the beam of light, the receptor signals the photocell to set off the alarm.
- Combination detectors. These detectors are also known as dual sensor smoke alarms, and they combine both ionization and photoelectric detectors into one unit.
There is often significant debate over what type of alarm a person needs in their home or business. Ionization detectors are the most common type on the market, making up approximately 90% of the detectors inside of homes. However, ionization detectors are not very good at picking up slow-moving fires, which can go completely undetected by these alarms. Because a majority of home fires start at night, smoldering and low lying fires could result in an ionization detector becoming worthless.
Because there is no way to know what type of fire could start in your home, it is recommended that homeowners purchase and install combination ionization and photoelectric detectors.
Who is Liable for a Smoke Alarm Defect?
Defective smoke detector claims are usually going to become product liability cases. Unfortunately, product liability claims can become incredibly complex. There may be various liable parties in these instances, and it is likely that the defendants in these cases will have access to well-funded legal teams and insurance carriers.
Some of the parties that may be held liable for a defective smoke detector include:
- The company that designed the defective smoke detector
- The company that manufactured the defective smoke detector
- The retail outlet that sold the defective smoke detector
- A distributor or third-party broker of the defective smoke detector
- A third-party company they produced defective parts inside the smoke detector
- A landlord or property owner who installed the smoke detector and failed to ensure it was properly maintained
Determining liability in these cases can be complicated, and the victims are going to need an advocate by their side with extensive legal experience and the resources necessary to conduct a full investigation. In some cases, it may be discovered that one or more parties can be held liable in a defective smoke alarm case.
What Types of Damages Can I Recover?
In the aftermath of sustaining an injury or property damage due to a faulty smoke detector, victims may be entitled to various types of compensation. At Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, our attorneys will conduct a full investigation into your claim in order to secure the following:
- Economic damages. This can include coverage for medical bills, hospital expenses, rehabilitation, loss of income if a victim cannot work, property damage expenses, and other out-of-pocket expenses.
- Non-economic damages. These damages can include coverage for pain and suffering, mental and emotional anguish caused by permanent injuries, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, and more.
- Punitive damages. In some cases, victims of defective smoke detectors may be entitled to punitive damages against a grossly negligent company, manufacturer, or installer.
The total amount of compensation available in these cases will vary depending on the various elements related to each particular case.
Get Answers: Turn To An Injury Firm With An Unmatched Record Of Success
At the San Francisco law firm of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, we strive to make a difference by pursuing justice for fire victims. If you suffered serious burn injuries or lost a loved one in a fire, it’s possible that the harm you suffered could have been prevented by working smoke detectors. Our San Francisco personal injury lawyers can conduct a meticulous investigation to identify whether someone else’s negligence was a contributing factor.
As one of the nation’s leading personal injury firms, Walkup Melodia has a legacy of multimillion-dollar victories spanning more than five decades.
We consistently attract some of California’s top trial attorneys – including a doctor-lawyer with an invaluable medical background. Our legal team’s winning track record outpaces any other similar-sized personal injury firm in Northern California. Contact us online or call us at (415) 981-7210 today to schedule a free consultation.