The damage caused by a house fire is often avoidable. In these tragic accidents, carelessness or defective equipment are often the culprits. However, who is liable in a house fire accident will depend on its cause and whether it was set on purpose or accidental.
Liability for Accidental House Fires
The damage and any injuries from an accidental fire will typically be covered by homeowners or renters insurance. A standard homeowners insurance policy includes several types of coverages, such as:
- Dwelling coverage: This type of coverage will pay to rebuild a home if it is destroyed by a fire, as well as the costs of cleanup and debris removal.
- Other structures coverage: If the fire reaches another structure located on the property, such as a detached garage, this coverage will pay for the damage.
- Personal property: Compensation to repair or replace personal belongings destroyed by the fire or smoke (e.g., furniture, appliances, electronics, clothing, etc.).
- Loss of use coverage: Coverage for temporary living expenses if the house cannot be lived in.
- Liability coverage: If the fire damaged a neighbor’s home, their property, or injured another individual, this coverage will cover their damages up to policy limits.
Unfortunately, if a homeowner’s policy limits are not high enough to cover the full extent of the damages, they will be personally responsible unless a third party contributed to the fire.
Liability for House Fires Caused by Arson
Homeowners insurance does not cover intentional damage. Therefore, if the owner or a family member starts a house fire on purpose, their insurer will not reimburse them for the damage. Purposely setting a fire with the intent to damage a home is a criminal act called arson. Generally, arson can be considered a felony crime and does not pertain to fires set by third parties as acts of vandalism.
Third-Party Liability for a House Fire Accident
Most homeowners insurance policies include coverage for acts of vandalism. For example, if a third party were to set fire to another person’s home, the homeowner can file an arson vandalism claim. The third-party could also be civilly liable and may be forced to pay restitution if the homeowner decides to sue them.
Fires Caused by Defective Products
When a defective product is to blame for a house fire accident, the product’s manufacturer may be liable. For example, a failed smoke detector causing a small fire to spread quickly or a defective toaster sparking a flame that ends up destroying a part of a house. In these cases, you can sue the manufacturer for their negligence and recover compensation for the damage and any injuries.
Common Causes of Accidental House Fires
House fires can be accidentally caused for various reasons, with the most common being:
- Appliances and equipment
- Unattended candles
- Holiday decorations (e.g., Christmas tree lights)
- Electrical systems and devices
- Negligent smoking habits
- Chemicals and gasses (household chemicals, natural or propane gas)
- Lightning strike
- Small children unknowingly playing with fire or matches
- Ember from a normal fire
It is important to keep in mind that even an indoor fire in a fireplace should never be left unattended.