Firm Settles Wrongful Death Claim for $1,000,000.00
January 11, 2013
Todd Henningsen just settled a wrongful death claim of an elderly man for $1,000,000.00 on the eve of trial. Henningsen Injury Attorneys, in conjunction with another Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer, Michael L. Neff, Esq., were able to successfully convince the defense to offer $1,000,000.00 just days before the trial was set to begin. The death occurred as a result of a fire in an apartment in the basement. This was an extremely hard-fought legal battle in which the defense never made an offer of settlement until just weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin.
After multiple rounds of negotiations, we were able to convince the defense that their best option was to settle the claim without the necessity of a trial. Although there is no amount of money that can ever take away the pain from the victim’s family, we truly believe that this result honors the memory of a man whose life was tragically cut short. A short synopsis of the case is outlined below.
Details of the Case
The decedent lived in a basement apartment with his wife who was a housekeeper for a wealthy family. The home was approximately 10,000 square feet located in Sandy Springs. On January 9, 2010, at approximately 3:00 p.m. fire broke out in the basement apartment area. The decedent was last seen at approximately 2:00 p.m. sleeping on the bed in the basement apartment. The fire set off the smoke alarms in the house and both the homeowner and the decedent’s wife tried to save the decedent but the smoke was too thick for them to make entry into the apartment area.
Firefighters were on the scene within minutes, but the smoke and heat were too much for them to locate the decedent. Within minutes of the fire department’s arrival, the basement apartment “flashed over” and basically everything in the room caught fire. Ultimately the firefighters were able to control the blaze and when they made entry into the apartment they found the decedent in the bathroom. It was later determined that he had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The fire investigators from Sandy Springs as well as those hired by the insurance company were unable to determine the cause of the fire. The usual suspects such as the furnace, can lights, wiring, etc. were ruled out so the official cause of the fire remained undetermined.
The building codes require that every “sleeping area” have a primary and secondary means of egress. This is not only to allow the occupants of the room to escape, but also to allow rescue personnel access in the event of an emergency. The sleeping area in the basement apartment did not have a primary means of egress so we focused liability on this code violation. After further research, we also determined that there was a furnace closet in the basement apartment and that too was a code violation that allowed the fire to spread more rapidly. Thus, with two separate code violations, we believed that we had enough to be successful on the claim.
The defense fought us on every aspect of this case. They argued that there was no code violation because we could not establish that the decedent was in the sleeping area when the fire started because he was ultimately found in the bathroom. They also argued that even if there was a code violation, it did not matter because there is no way that the decedent could have survived the fire. The defense justified this argument through their fire expert who held the opinion that the way in which the fire spread prevented survival regardless of any code violations. To refute the defense’s contentions we had a code expert and a fire safety expert who obviously opined that the proximate cause of death was the code violations.
On the damages portion the defense argued that the decedent’s health and advanced age should hold the value of the claim down. We hired a psychologist to refute the defense’s assertions regarding the decedent’s mental condition as well as the coroner to talk about the cause of death. Because we did not have anything to put in front of the jury regarding the economic loss associated with the decedent’s death, we focused the damages on the pre-death pain and suffering of the decedent. Mike was able to establish that the decedent lived for approximately 15 minutes before he succumbed to the carbon monoxide.
We are honored that the family put their faith in trust in us to help them through this tragedy. As a wrongful death attorney in Atlanta, we understand the sorrow and pain that occurs when someone’s life is tragically cut short.