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Flickering Fixture Fire
by Ron Davis
Did a tenant of a Texas shopping center take proper precautions following warnings of a potential premises fire before it became a reality?
Several other tenants of the shopping center, Palm Valley in Corpus Christi, answer no to that question. They contend that the tenant–a Dollar General store–had plenty of warnings of a fire hazard and did nothing.
The fire in question occurred in a back area of the Dollar General store, then spread to several other tenant stores. Those tenants sued Dollar General and the shopping center’s owners, charging them with negligence. (The shopping center’s owners eventually settled with the tenants prior to trial.)
The tenants pointed out that the warnings of a fire possibility were many. A few hours before the fire began, for instance, several Dollar General customers said they detected a burning smell. And employees, tracing the smell to a light fixture, replaced the bulb. But that action apparently failed to solve the problem. Light from the fixture continued to flicker. And management of the store did not summon nearby fire officials to investigate, nor did management turn the power off in the area of concern.
When the fire later began in the area of the defective light fixture, the flames quickly spread to nearby tenant stores, resulting in considerable damage. Following an independent investigation, however, Dollar General contended that based on the findings, the source of the fire could not be attributed to Dollar General’s lighting system, but instead was caused by a single defective light fixture.
A Texas court ruled that Dollar General was at fault for failure to take action after receiving warnings of a potential fire at its Palm Valley store. Dollar General appealed that ruling.
A Texas appellate court upheld the decision of the lower court, explaining, “Dollar General argues that the other tenants must offer some evidence of what Dollar General actually did or failed to do to cause the fire. We conclude the evidence constitutes more than a scintilla of evidence that Dollar General was aware of a potential problem and failed to take action to investigate the problem. Further, the finding of cause is not so contrary to the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly unjust, shock the conscience, or clearly demonstrate bias.” (Dolgencorp of Texas, Inc. v. Lerma, 2007 WL 2390718 [Tex.App.–Corpus Christi])
Decision: September 2007
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