Californians are sometimes injured or killed in fires that start in high-rise buildings. Some of these buildings do not have sprinklers installed, leading to pushes to pass laws requiring that they are installed in older buildings. A July 2017 fire in a Honolulu high-rise building in which three people were killed has led to renewed debate in states and cities across the country.
The Honolulu fire took place in a building that was built in 1971, which was before the local laws were changed to require sprinklers in new construction. The law was not made retroactive, however, meaning buildings such as the one in which the July 14 fire occurred were not required to install sprinkler systems.
There is a patchwork of laws in cities across the U.S., including in California. In San Francisco, for instance, there were two deadly fires in 2015 that led local officials to try to push through legislation aimed at requiring building owners to retrofit older buildings with sprinkler systems. It failed in the face of pushback from landlords and officials who were concerned about the logistics involved and the costs.
When dangerous property conditions exist in buildings that the owners know or should have reasonably known about, the property owners may be liable to pay damages to the victims who are harmed by their failures to warn about or to correct the hazards. Victims might want to talk to personal injury attorneys about the rights that they might have. With an experienced attorney's help, a person who is injured in a fire in an apartment building or the family of a person who is killed may be able to recover damages under a theory of premises liability.