Today’s Burning Question: We are at the scene of a fatal fire that claimed the lives of five people. The building is unsafe and needs to be knocked down. Can we order the building to be demolished?
Answer: The authority to demolish fire damaged property is usually determined quite simply by researching state and local law. We now have to add a relatively new consideration: spoliation, and our potential liability for the destruction of evidence relevant to a possible legal proceeding.
In Stamford, Connecticut, the father of three young girls killed in a house fire on Christmas morning, 2011, announced plans to sue city officials for the intentional destruction of evidence when they ordered the demolition of the home on December 26, 2011.
Last Friday, attorney Richard Emery filed a notice of intent to sue Stamford and city officials on behalf of Matthew Badger. Badger’s three daughters died in a fire at the home of their grandparents on Shippan Avenue. The grandparents died as well.
The cause of the fired was rule accidental, and attributed to the careless disposal of fireplace ashes. Besides the spoliation claim, Badger accuses the city of negligence for failing to properly inspect the home, failing to ensure there were proper smoke detectors, and allowing the building (which he characterized as a “plain fire hazard”) to be occupied. The 3,350 square foot home was being renovated at the time of the fire.
Stamford’s Director of Legal Affairs, attorney Joseph Capalbo, was quoted by CTPost.com as saying “While we believe the allegations against the city and its employees are baseless and without merit, we are mindful of the tragic loss suffered by the Badger family and continue to offer our deepest heartfelt sympathies.”