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ARTICLE ID 43339

Plaintiffs alleged negligence of plumbing and heating contractor in installing gas-fired heater that led to fire that destroyed plaintiff owner's residence and plaintiff tenant's belongings - Fire originated from source other than heater.

Plymouth County Superior Court, Massachusetts

In ________ a fire destroyed the plaintiff homeowner’s residence and all of the plaintiff tenant’s personal property contained therein. The plaintiffs, including the homeowner’s fire insurance company, sued the plumbing and heating contractor who had installed a gas-fired heater in November ________. The plaintiffs alleged that the contractor had failed to install an air intake sleeve and that this failure led to the fire two years later. The defendant argued that that it had properly installed the heater and, specifically, that it had installed an air intake sleeve.

Local and state fire inspectors initially concluded that the fire was caused by the defendant’s failure to install the air intake sleeve. The defendant argued throughout that it had installed the sleeve and that the fire investigators at the scene had failed to inspect the burn patterns on the heater itself as well as other appliances near the fire which showed that the origin of the fire was at floor level rather that in the area of the heater. In addition, the defendant argued that the fire inspectors had failed to thoroughly search the surrounding property for the sleeve which could have been blown onto the property.

The defendant presented at trial an expert plumbing engineer who testified that the heater was not defective, did not malfunction, and showed signs of discoloration indicating that the air intake sleeve had been properly installed.

The defendant also introduced testimony of the retired state fire marshal who had initially investigated the fire. The marshal conceded that he had not inspected the burn patterns on the appliances and that, after inspecting them for trial, changed his opinion. He opined at trial that based upon the burn patterns, he now believed that the fire was caused by some combustible material that had fallen on the floor and remained near or under the heater, ultimately igniting and causing the fire.

The plaintiff maintained that because of local zoning laws, he was precluded from repairing or rebuilding the home. As a result, he claimed lost rental income from the destroyed home which had been rented to the same tenant for over 25 years.

No demand has been reported. After a trial lasting one and a half weeks and after deliberating for a couple of hours, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant.

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