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ARTICLE ID 17650

$________, $________ and $________ VERDICTS - FIRE LOSS - ON PRODUCTS LIABILITY ALLEGATION OF DEFECTIVE SPACE HEATER - FAILURE OF COMMERCIAL TENANT AND LANDLORD TO HAVE FIRE EXTINGUISHERS - SPREAD OF FIRE - PROPERTY DAMAGE.

Bergen County

This was a fire damage case that occurred in an office building.

The plaintiffs included several tenants and the owner who brought an action against the manufacturer of a space heater, alleging that it was defectively manufactured. The plaintiff tenants also contended that the defendant tenant law firm negligently stored papers within one inch of the space heater, contributing to the fire and negligently failed to have fire extinguishers on hand, resulting in the spread of the fire. The owner’s and plaintiff tenants’ engineers contended that the thermostat limit switch of the space heater failed, contributing to an overheating condition and the fire, and maintained that a loose connection at the time of manufacture caused this failure. The defendant manufacturer’s expert engineer contended that the switch was open after the fire indicating that it was functioning properly and further contended that this evidence supported the manufacturer’s position that the heater was not on at the time. The manufacturer also elicited testimony from employees of the law firm that the space heater was not on at the time the fire was discovered during business hours. The incident occurred in may and the manufacturer also contended that since the temperature ranged from 60-70 degrees, it was doubtful that the heater was on, especially since the workers had become more used to cold weather during the winter. The defendant manufacturer also contended that the fire department had determined that the cause of the fire was a loose connection in the wire leading to a calculator which was plugged into the wall socket in question. The damage to the calculator was extensive and precluded an identification of the manufacturer. The plaintiffs and defendant manufacturer also contended that the law firm was negligent in failing to have two fire extinguishers as required by the BOCA code, resulting in the fire spreading rapidly. An employee of the law firm testified that when she observed the fire commencing in the office in question, she ran for a coffee pot which she filled with water and then opted not to pour the water on the fire because she saw wires sizzling and was not certain if placing water on an electrical fire would be appropriate. The plaintiff tenants and the defendant manufacturer contended that had the employee been able to obtain a fire extinguisher, the fire would have been immediately put out before any damage to surrounding areas occurred. The lease between the tenants and landlord precluded actions against each other and the defendant manufacturer named the landlord as a defendant, arguing that it had a concurrent duty to supply fire extinguishers. The jury found that the space heater was not defective. The jury further found that the law firm was negligent, specifically determining that although its negligence did not cause the fire, its negligence permitted the fire to spread beyond the room of origin. They then assessed 90% liability against the tenant law firm and 10% against the landlord. They then awarded $________ to the first plaintiff tenant, $________ to the second plaintiff tenant and $________ to the third plaintiff tenant. Nalbandian vs. Arvin Industries, et al.

Docket no. L-________-87; Judge Isabel Stark, 9-20-91. Attorneys for plaintiff tenants: Cecelia Osterlee ($________), Robert Hille ($________), and Sean Doherty, ($________); Attorney for exonerated defendant space heater manufacturer: Dennis M. Donnelly; Attorney for landlord: Alan Bernstein; Attorney for law firm: Peter Melnyk. Plaintiff owner’s and tenants’ expert electrical engineers: Seymour Bodner from Livingston and Paul Nippes from Holmdel. Defendant manufacturer’s expert electrical engineer: Donald Townsend from Phoenix, Ariz. Owner’s cause and origin expert: David Redsicker from Hackensack. Spaceheater manufacturer’s cause and origins expert: Stuart Mclaughlin from Delaware. Plaintiff tenant’s fire suppression expert: Lawrence Dove from Dove Assoc., Phila.

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