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Chesapeake, VA Personal Injury Attorney Reports: Deadly Business Fire in Norfolk Prompts Criminal Charges

Less than two weeks after a homeless man died in a fire at the Terrific Fabric Care Company building on Campostella Road in Norfolk, Virginia (VA), the owner of the business has been charged with class I misdemeanors for not having a business license, not ensuring a smoke detector worked and blocking access to a fire extinguisher. According to Wavy-TV 10, the person who lost his life had been staying on the second floor of the building with the knowledge and permission of the cleaner's owner even though the building was not zoned for residency.

Homeless man found dead in burned-out Norfolk, VA business

The station reported that at least three people had been living in a "tent-like" structure in the metal warehouse and that the fire apparently started when a lit cigarette was dropped on a mattress. The deceased victim appears to have stayed behind to fight the flames when the other people fled to safety.

Beyond the criminal charges, the business owner might also be held liable for creating or allowing a dangerous situation that led to the wrongful death of the man who was staying on his property. Under the legal concept of premises liability, owners of buildings and business operators have responsibilities for ensuring that customers and other people who are not employees remain safe and uninjured when they are on the property the owner/operator controls. Even though the owner of Terrific Fabric Care was in no way responsible for starting the fatal fire, he permitted the man who died to be in harm's way and did not maintain proper fire protections.

A landlord or property owner who knows folks live in the building is more likely to be held responsible for lack of basic expected safety. On the other hand, the business owner might say that the man who died was a trespasser to whom no duty was owed.

As a Virginia personal attorney who has represented plaintiffs in premises liability lawsuits, I know that most such cases involve slips and falls that result in broken bones and dislocations. As this deadly business fire shows, however, fatal accidents are always a possibility when an owner or operator allows unsafe conditions to go uncorrected.

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