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Liability of Recent Silver Spring Explosion

Friday, August 19th, 2016 By

On August 10th, 2016, a massive explosion occurred on an otherwise normal day in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Flower Branch Apartments located on Arliss Street caught fire, leaving seven people dead. The event was so significant in terms of the amount of damage and circumstances that the National Transportation Safety Board is now reviewing what happened and working to determine negligence within the incident.

What Happened?

Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/AP
Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

No official word was released about the underlying cause of the incident. However, many residents complained of smelling natural gas not just the day of the event, but for weeks leading up to it. The powerful explosion left the building nearly leveled. It left seven dead, 30 injured, and about 100 people displaced. Several of the bodies were not identified for several days after the incident.

Numerous organizations are investigating the incident including local and federal authorities, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The natural gas explosion in Silver Springs was likely brought on by some type of natural gas leak, which caused the explosion and eventual fire. After the event, it took days for the local fire department and investigators to comb through the remains as conditions remained unsafe. There’s much recovery still necessary and 60 households were lost.

The victims ranged in age from 3 to 65. And, many were burnt so badly that it was not possible for authorities to determine age or gender of the bodies initially. With such horrific conditions, most people have the same question. Why?

Ongoing Problems and Complications Existed

Ask any of the displaced residents about the cause and they are sure to give you their opinion. Many complained of natural gas smells. One resident said he had smelled gas for several weeks and even called 911 to report the smell. Many say they were not taken seriously when making such calls and reports.  Some say a specific area seemed to always smell of natural gas. And, according to some news sources, a former worker in the management office said complaints of natural gas smells were common.

Reports from July 25, several weeks before the explosion, say police were called to the complex for the report of a gas smell. Details state that officials could find no evidence of a gas leak at that time.

Washington Gas, who supplies gas to the apartment complex, says the remaining complex is safe and there is no risk to anyone else living there. Area officials, the state’s governor and many community members have stepped up to help those in need. But, questions remain about why this occurred and whether someone could have done something to avoid it. Was there liability in Silver Spring’s apartment complex fire?

A Look at the Complex

The Silver Spring apartment complex itself was 60 years old. The building was inspected in 2013. And, during that inspection, there were 500 violations. Those violations stem from concerns such as inoperative smoke detectors and overcrowding in units. According to the records for the complex, all of the violations were fixed by August of the same year.

The building is managed by Kay Apartment Communities. They’ve not commented on inspections or the incident’s potential negligence. They are working with authorities in all matters.

There is no official word about the cause of the explosion as of yet. Until that happens, there is no possibility of laying blame or stating that anyone is liable for the losses. Yet, many are discussing negligence on behalf of the property management company and apartment complex owner.

When is a Landlord Negligent?

A key question that must be answered here is whether or not the actions or inaction of the landlord, property management company, or property owner in some way caused or led to the fire at the Silver Spring complex. Whether or not negligence is possible depends on many factors.

  • Who is responsible for the cause of the incident? In some cases, the owner of the gas line, if it failed, could be held liable. Depending on the agreement with the gas supplier, liability in this incident could be directly related to negligence on behalf of the line if they failed to maintain it.
  • Were repairs known? A key problem with liability matters is proving that the party knew of the problem and then did not take steps to prevent or take care of it. In this situation, a key area of concern is with the numerous reports of a smell of gas. That could be key here because it points to a report to the management that a problem existed. If that problem is the result of a lack of action to correct the reported matter, it could lead to a liability concern.
  • Was there real risk present that the organization knew about? Most property management companies and tenants sign an agreement that states the management company will maintain the property in habitable conditions. For example, if there’s no hot water, it is the responsibility of the management to fix that problem. In this case, if they did not provide a safe environment and it can be seen that they knew it was unsafe, then negligence again becomes a concern.

On the other hand, if there is no indication that the owners or others could have prevented the events from occurring, it is unlikely that negligence claims will occur. In this case, it all comes down to what the authorities learn and determine.

What Happens If Negligence Occurs?

Prior to any person or company making claim against the owners, management, or others involved in the Silver Spring apartment fire, the cause must be understood. Liability in the apartment fire could mean that the victims of it could file a claim for loss of life, medical bills, lost time at work, personal belongings, emotional distress, and much more. Wrongful death claims for seven people may very well be a realistic type of loss here.

Incidents of loss like this can be devastating. Many of these individuals likely do not have renters insurance to support their losses either, making it very important for individuals to pursue legal action if negligence occurs.

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