As a personal injury lawyer, who has handled many fire injury cases, we took some time to do some legal analysis of the recent death of Jacks Pearson in NBC’s This Is Us. We are currently handling the Jacksonville Townhouse Apartment Fire, representing over 80 victims. We also handle criminal defense and, well, that analysis was pretty simple.
Simply put, there is no criminal liability on any party. Had children been injured, one may be able to argue severe culpable neglect on the Pearson parents for knowingly ignoring the need for working fire alarms while keeping hazardous appliances plugged in, but this isn’t that case. States vary in their punishment of criminal neglect.
As a lawyer, I am taking the position as if I am investigating the potential wrongful death of Jack Pearson. For the most part, I do not see any liability. However, there is some further investigation I recommend at the end.
Crock Pot / Slow Cooker:
From 2006 to 2015, about 50% of fires in residential buildings were caused by cooking. Further, most house fires are caused by the misuse of appliances, typically when they are old and wearing down. The defective crock pot was the source of the fire. However, we also know the Pearson family used it for 17-18 years and it was defective from the time it was given to them by their neighbor. The statute of limitations would have run against the person who gave it to them and Jack and Rebecca have blame for keeping it around the house. It varies state by state, but spouses generally cannot sue each other for civil damages in cases like this and they were both mutually liable. In fact, Jack turned it off, but didn’t unplug it.
The most common thing you will see in a fatal house fire is the lack of a working smoke alarm. Rebecca and Jack both were irresponsible about smoke detectors which would have given them early warning, but hey, it was twenty years ago. People were less safe but still knew better. Those batteries should have been replaced but again- there’s no real legal claim for it, as both parents bore blame.
Jack chose to go back in to retrieve the family pet. He also chose to come back down through the downstairs, where the fire was at its greatest. It was a dangerous decision and he essentially caused his own smoke inhalation and resulting death saving the dog- and more likely- the photos and mementos.Residential fire victims have often returned inside the burning structure to rescue a pet or another loved one, and died from smoke inhalation which causes carbon monoxide poisoning, interior burning and a host of respiratory and cardiac injuries. By the way, dogs cannot be sued.
Little known fact… the fire kills less people than the smoke inhalation in indoor fires. As you saw, inhalation or exposure to the hot gaseous byproducts of combustion can cause serious respiratory complications. Some 50–80% of fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation injuries, including burns to the respiratory system. There doesn’t appear to be anything inherently defective in the home or any liability other than Jack’s own failure to recognize his own human frailty.
Kids are kids. Granted, they were 17, but they didn’t cause the fire or directly contribute to any damages. They may blame themselves but did nothing to contribute to fault.
Here is your best possible case. I don’t think the doctor necessarily did anything wrong, but would like to see Jack’s medical records. Again, it was 1998 so testing has come a long way, but the doctor didn’t seem to foresee the risk of cardiac arrest or internal damage and looking at one’s throat is hardly taking it seriously. He knew the heart rate was up. This is the best case.
I’d advise the estate to order the medical records and potentially do a forensic autopsy while checking the homeowners policy to determine if there was any chance at making a claim thereunder for more than property damage.
Luckily, it’s just a television show, but this happens each day to someone in real life. Keep your families safe.
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