$2.3 Million Fatal Fire Case Featured in DBR

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$2.3 Million Fatal Fire Case Featured in DBR

Haggard Law Firm attorney Pedro Echarte was interviewed for a story detailing the recent settlement in the case of a young father who died in a mobile home fire. As the article describes, an inadequate number of smoke detectors was at the heart of the eventual $2.3 million settlement.


Full article as written by Celia Ampel, Daily Business Review

When a Jacksonville mobile home caught fire in May 2015, the 26-year-old father sleeping inside never woke up.

Jemarr Anderson died of smoke inhalation in the trailer, leaving behind a 5-year-old son who was safe at his mother’s home that night. An inspection of the fire-ravaged property revealed the bedroom where Anderson slept had no smoke detector.

Just one melted smoke detector was found in the rubble, on the opposite side of the mobile home.

“This unit requires at least two, if not four, depending on which ordinance or code you look at,” said Coral Gables attorney Pedro Echarte III of the Haggard Law Firm, who sued the landowner on behalf of Anderson’s young son. Anderson’s girlfriend, who was at work during the fire, rented the mobile home.

After less than a year of litigation, landlord Christopher Campolongo agreed to settle the case for $2.3 million, paying the policy limits of insurance on the property. The Nov. 16 settlement awaits approval by Duval Circuit Judge Virginia Norton, as it involves a child.

Echarte said it’s still unclear what started the fire at 7582 Sonia Drive in Jacksonville, but it appeared to have originated in the living room, which was in the center of the trailer. The smoke detector was on the wall of the second bedroom, and it’s unknown whether the alarm ever sounded.

While the standards that could apply to the trailer vary — including Duval County codes, industry standards set by the National Fire Protection Association and landlord/tenant law — Echarte said the general consensus is that a property must have a smoke detector in or immediately outside each bedroom.

An examination of the four trailers on the property, each rented to a different tenant, showed an inconsistent approach to fire safety, the attorney said.

“They never had a formal plan, ‘OK, we need smoke detectors in each bedroom,'” Echarte said. “It would just be [that] every unit had a smoke detector somewhere.”

During discovery, Campolongo testified that he relied on a property manager to make sure the trailers were up to code. The property manager “proved to not really have a full understanding of the governing regulations,” Echarte said.

Campolongo’s lawyers, Trevor Hawes and Matthew Whiddon of Cole, Scott & Kissane in Jacksonville, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

In an October answer to the most recent version of the complaint, the defense lawyers argued Campolongo had no control over the fire that caused Anderson’s death and that Anderson might have died solely because of his own negligence. The property manager, the mobile home manufacturer and any visitors or trespassers who might have started the fire could be held at least partially liable, the attorneys argued.

The property management company is a defendant in the lawsuit, and that litigation is still ongoing in Jacksonville court.

Echarte said Anderson’s Facebook posts from the weeks before the fire showed how much he cared about his child, who was named after him.

“It was clear that Jemarr thought the world of his son,” Echarte said.

That evidence might have bolstered the case if it ever went to trial, which was scheduled for fall 2017. But the landowner agreed to settle well before that.

“I think they saw the risk in their arguments,” Echarte said.

The settlement comes at a time of year when house fires are common, and the attorney said he hopes it underscores the need for property owners to comply with fire safety regulations.

“The statistics of people passing away in residential home fires are actually astonishing [when it comes to] the difference between when there’s working smoke detectors and when there’s not,” he said.

Case: Lisa Anderson v. Christopher Campolongo et al

Case no.: 16-2016-CA-001316

Description: Wrongful death

Filing date: Feb. 26, 2016

Settlement date: Nov. 16, 2016

Judge: Duval Circuit Judge Virginia Norton

Plaintiffs attorney: Pedro Echarte III, the Haggard Law Firm, Coral Gables

Defense attorneys: Trevor Hawes and Matthew Whiddon, Cole, Scott & Kissane, Jacksonville

Settlement amount: $2.3 million


To read the full article as it appears in the Daily Business Review, click here:

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