Chenoweth Law Group

Landowners faces lawsuit after destructive Oregon fire

A group of landowners who own the vacant lot in Ashland, Oregon, that was the center of a 2010 fire that destroyed 11 homes have been sued for failing to maintain an appropriate level of safety at the site. The plaintiffs are four insurance companies that paid out $1.7 million to six homeowners after the blaze, which has been called Ashland's worst fire in the past 100 years. The plaintiffs request damages compensating them for the insurance payments.

Authorities concluded that the fire at the center of the civil litigation was caused by a 42-year-old homeless man, with prosecutors charging him with reckless burning and reckless endangerment. A judge acknowledged that the man probably started the fire, but the suspect was not convicted as prosecutors could not show that he was fully aware of the consequences of his actions. A prosecutor later suggested that the man suffered from mental illness and alcohol addiction after he was convicted of throwing rocks at middle school students, but the nature of the charges made him illegible for court-ordered treatment. He was released from jail two weeks after sentencing due to overcrowding.

The recent lawsuit argues that the landowners knew that the man and other homeless people were camping in the lot, an overgrown field where the vagrants also reportedly smoke cigarettes and started fires on a regular basis. The lawsuit contends that the defendants failed to address a "dangerous accumulation of waste and overgrown brush" on the property, which presented "an extreme fire hazard" and violated city and state codes.

Online records indicate that the defendants, which include a family trust, a real estate company and three individuals, have denied all of the accusations listed in the claims. A representative for the real estate company argued that it is "not hired to police properties for vagrants" and is thus immune from liability for the fire. "We don't maintain properties. The only thing we are employed to do is market a property," he explained.

Source: Claims Journal, "Insurers Sue Landowners in Oregon Fire," Nov. 14, 2012

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