BHH Wins Summary Judgment for Municipality in Multimillion-Dollar Fire Case 

February 2023 • Source: Burden, Hafner & Hansen, LLC

Partners Donna L. Burden and Sarah E. Hansen, at Burden, Hafner & Hansen, LLC, in Buffalo, NY, won a Motion for Summary Judgment in Erie County Supreme Court on February 22, 2023, on a multimillion-dollar suit for serious personal injuries to a family of five in a 2017 fire.   The case involved an apartment fire deliberately set by an arsonist, who is still imprisoned for his crimes, pouring accelerant into the interior common stairwell of a multiple unit apartment building.  The Plaintiffs sued the municipality, as well as the property owner, on the basis that it did not properly inspect the property and failed to cite the property owner for code violations.  Plaintiff father sustained severe orthopedic and spinal injuries primarily to his left foot and spine from jumping from the window. The mother was on life support with a severe inhalation injury complicated with respiratory failure, and required prolonged mechanical ventilation and tracheostomy, and sustained severe burns across her shoulder and upper back.  The oldest child, then 5, cut her face on the broken glass on the ground, leaving a scar across her face, and sustained injuries from smoke inhalation, collapsed lungs and burn scars across her head. Another child, then 3, sustained a collapsed lung and bad burns across his forearm and thighs and was transported out of town for burn injuries and skin grafting. The youngest was 6 months old and sustained smoke damage. Four of the Plaintiffs claimed significant PTSD.   The Court granted our Summary Judgment Motion based on lack of special duty.   It found that the municipality “neither voluntarily assumed a duty to Plaintiffs, nor did [it] take positive control of a known and dangerous safety condition.”  The Court also found that the municipality did not owe any special duty to the property owner as to the fire or the events preceding it for the same reasons.