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Man's survivors claimed he suffered during fatal hotel fire

Amount:

$375,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

New Jersey

Venue:

Burlington County

Court:

Burlington County Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

other-death other-conscious pain and suffering pulmonary/respiratory-smoke inhalation

Case Type:

Premises Liability - Fire, Hotel or Motel, Dangerous ConditionAffirmative Defenses - Contributory NegligencePremises Liability - Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance

Case Name:

Katherine E. Burleson, as representative for the Estate of Joseph C. Evans, deceased v. Leviton Manufacturing Company Inc., Travel Inn, Durga Corporation and Maruti Realty Corporation, No. BUR-L-2228-10

Date:

August 20, 2013

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Katherine Burleson (Female), 

Estate of Joseph Evans (Male, 46 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Richard J. Talbot; Law Office of Andrew A. Ballerini; Cherry Hill, NJ, for Katherine Burleson, Estate of Joseph Evans

Plaintiff Expert(s):

James Rogers; Fire Damage; Vineyard Haven, MA called by Richard J. Talbot ■ Donald Jason; M.D., J.D.; Pathology; Winston-Salem, NC called by Richard J. Talbot

Defendant(s):

Travel Inn, 

Durga Corporation, 

Maruti Realty Corporation, 

Leviton Manufacturing Company

Defense Attorney(s):

Dennis J. Crawford; Law Offices of Dennis J. Crawford; Audubon, NJ, for Travel Inn, Durga Corporation, Maruti Realty Corporation ■ Bradley D. Remick; Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C.; Philadelphia, PA, for Leviton Manufacturing Company

Defendent Expert(s):

Ian Hood; Forensic Pathology; Philadelphia, PA called by Dennis J. Crawford ■ Richard Fedor; Security/Alarm Systems; Paoli, PA called by Dennis J. Crawford

Insurer(s):

Merchants Mutual Insurance Company for Travel Inn, Durga Corporation and Maruti Realty Corporation

Facts:

On Oct. 2, 2008, plaintiff's decedent Joseph Evans, aged 46 and not employed at the time, was found dead in his room at the Travel Inn hotel in Lumberton. It was later determined that a fire had occurred in his room two or three days before his body was discovered, and that this fire had caused his death. (At the time, Evans was receiving public assistance and was residing at the hotel for temporary housing.) A suit was brought on behalf of Evans' estate against Travel Inn; Durga Corporation, the hotel's ownership entity; and the management company for the hotel, Maruti Realty Corporation. Also named as a defendant was Leviton Manufacturing, which had manufactured the electrical receptacle in which the fire allegedly began. (The claim against Leviton Manufacturing was settled before trial for an undisclosed amount.) The estate's counsel argued that the smoke alarm in the hotel room did not function properly, with the result that Evans was unable to escape from the fire. Counsel argued that at the time of the fire, there were ongoing violations in the hotel regarding malfunctioning smoke detectors. The estate's fire-damage expert testified that an alarm inside a smoke detector is designed to go off before smoke fills the room, in order to allow occupants the chance to escape. The estate's counsel argued that the evidence showed that Evans was found on his hands and knees, near the front of the door in his room. The defense argued the alarm in Evans' room was working properly. The defense's alarm-systems expert testified that the smoke detector in question had functioned as designed during the fire. The defense further contended that Evans was intoxicated with alcohol at the time of the incident, and was unable to react to the alarm. Defense counsel argued that Evans' intoxication contributed to his inability to leave the room.

Injury:

According to the suit maintained on his behalf, Evans died from smoke and soot inhalation. The estate's expert pathologist argued Evans had endured between one or two seconds and two minutes of pain and suffering before he died. The suit maintained on behalf of his estate sought to recover damages for Evans' conscious pain and suffering; there were no claims for wrongful-death or economic damages. The defense's expert pathologist testified that Evans' appreciable pain and suffering, to the extent he experienced any, was diminished due to his intoxication. The expert testified that the pain and suffering would have been less than one minute in duration.

Result:

The jury found that the hotel defendants had been negligent with respect to the fire. It determined that the estate's damages totaled $375,000.

Trial Information:

Judge:

M. Patricia Richmond

Trial Length:

3  weeks

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by counsels for all parties involved in the litigation.