$3.1 Million Landlord Neglected Property

$3,100,000 Settlement


On Christmas evening, Johnnie and Sophia went to sleep after a wonderful holiday. In the early evening hours, they awoke with their bedroom filled with noxious fumes and smoke. Unable to breathe or see, they realized the apartment in which they lived was engulfed in flames. They threw their then18 month old daughter out the second floor window into the arms of a neighbor and attempted to find their two sons. Tragically, both boys died in the blaze. A nephew who was spending the night was severely burned.

Our office was retained to represent the family and the injured relative to determine the cause for the fire. Extensive investigations done by the Santa Maria Fire Department and CAL FIRE could not determine the cause. It was speculated that combustible material from a blanket may have been placed near the floor heater. The family vehemently denied that allegation. The landlord defended himself by alleging the family had taken the batteries from the overhead smoke alarms and had used them for the children’s toys on Christmas, resulting in the lack of warning to the family.

After two years of litigation, the insurance carrier for the landlord offered $5,000 in full and final settlement of the claims, based upon its position the landlord was not responsible for the fire and that the family was negligent for removing the batteries from the smoke detectors. As trial approached, Mr. Murphy and the firm continued to committed themselves to finding out what really happened on Christmas night at the residence.

An exhaustive investigation lead to the location of former tenants who had occupied the apartment prior to the fire. During the initial telephone conversation between Jim and the prior tenants, Mr. Murphy uncovered the following information: that the smoke-detectors had never worked; that the prior tenants had requested the landlord fix the smoke-detector but he had refused; and that the floor heater ran so hot that a child’s toy had rolled on top of the grate of the furnace and melted onto the grate. The tenant stated, “the floor furnace burned so hot that it burned the pattern of the grate onto the wall behind the floor furnace.” Further investigation lead to the recovery of five compelling photographs. In one photograph, the former tenants’ daughter was eating an ice cream cone; behind her, on the wall, was scorched the pattern of the grill from the defective floor furnace. The scorch pattern was four feet high and eight feet long.

The furnace company had been out of business for 40 years. The former tenants testified that when they complained to the landlord about the problems with the floor furnace, he stated that “the furnace is your responsibility.” After showing the photographs to defense counsel, he dismissed them as “irrelevant”. Later that night, Mr. Murphy received a telephone call from the same defense attorney offering the $3.1 million dollar insurance policy. The case was settled because the family wanted closure and did not wish to purse the litigation further.

Testimonial by Johnnie
Jim Murphy is a wonderful lawyer who handled our case with compassion, integrity and professionalism. His staff is wonderful. We could not more highly recommend any attorney for any case.

Testimonial by Sophia
Jim and his team devoted themselves to our case. Knowing how important this case was to us, they never stopped working. Even when the insurance company refused to settle the case, Jim continued to have faith and hope and encouraged me to have faith and hope. We love Jim; we can never thank him enough for what he as done for our family.

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