Thom Salane Obtains Defense Verdict After Multiple Day Trial
Thom Salane obtains a defense verdict after a multiple-day trial. Thom’s client ran a plastics recycling operation in a leased portion of an old mill. The mill caught fire and burned for seven days before being extinguished. Plaintiff was the Chief of the local fire department who sustained permanent (50%) loss of lung function from inhalation of smoke during the week spent fighting the fire. He became totally disabled, and his economic loss was black-boarded at more than $1.6 million. Plaintiff requested in excess of $2,000,000 in closing argument. Plaintiff contended that the fire originated in an area under the client’s control and most probably as a result of an electrical overload, but failed to prove either theory. Plaintiff also contended that the plastics recycling operation was unsuited for the mill because there was no sprinkler system to suppress the fire, shredded or powdered PVC was highly combustible and should not have been stored on premises, and the client’s operation had previously been shut down for violation of fire codes and regulations. South Carolina is one of only two states to have rejected the "Fireman's Rule"--a fireman is barred from suing a landowner in tort for injuries sustained in fighting a fire caused by the negligence of the landowner. Thom relied upon SC common law licensee status, and primary implied assumption of risk (fireman assumes inherent risks of fire-fighting, including inhalation, heat, fire, collapse). Thom also proved that Plaintiff was aware of the exact nature of the toxic fumes and was instructed after first inhalation not to return to fire-fighting activities and to wear apparatus whenever in presence of smoke or fumes, but nevertheless returned to his duties and did not wear a breathing apparatus at all times he was within the fire perimeter. The jury returned a defense verdict on special interrogatories, finding that Defendant owed no duty to Plaintiff.