Burr v. JVL

This case illustrates the danger of unsafe barred doors and windows. Angela Burr and her 2 small children, Anthony and Jeremy, lived in an apartment in north St. Louis, Missouri. The property owner placed permanent bars on the apartment’s windows as well as a barred gate over the apartment’s only exit door. The barred gate, when locked, required the use of a key to open.

Early one morning a bed mattress in Angela Burr’s second floor bedroom caught fire. The fire was small and contained to the mattress. The cause of the fire was classified as unknown, but Angela Burr was known to smoke in bed. Studies show that when residential occupants become aware of a fire they typically take the following action:

  1. first, try to put the fire out;
  2. second, try to remove the fire from the residence;
  3. and third, try to escape the fire.

Angela did just those things. Angela tried to douse the fire with water but was unsuccessful. Fire investigators determined this because after the fire a faucet in the upstairs bathroom was running. Next Angela tried to remove the burning mattress from the apartment. This was apparent because the mattress was found at the bottom of the stairs which lead to Angela’s bedroom. Then Angela Burr was unable to remove the burning mattress from the apartment and unable to escape because the apartment’s only exit door was blocked by a gate which had steel bars. The barred gate could not open from inside the residence without a key. The steal barred windows were permanent and could not be opened at all.

The St. Louis City Fire Department arrived at the fire scene before any of the occupants were harmed. However, the firefighters were helpless because they could not enter the structure. Ms. Burr was unable to open the front gate because she could not find the key in the intense smoke. By the time the fire department obtained a saw and was able to take the barred door down, Angela, Anthony and Jeremy Burr were all unconscious and had sustained serious burns.

The fire department resuscitated the 3 victims and they were each transferred to St. Louis area hospitals. Angela Burr and Anthony Burr died but Jeremy Burr survived after 100 days in a burn unit and dozens of skin graft surgeries. Jeremy, a small boy at the time, did not learn that his mother and brother perished in the fire until more than 1 month after the fire.

Jeremy’s grandmother, the mother of Angela Burr, met with Anthony Bruning, days after the fire. Mr. Bruning, an experienced St. Louis Personal Injury Lawyer who represents burn victims and the families of persons killed in fires in Missouri and Illinois, immediately obtained an injunction to stop the demolition or alteration of the fire scene. Mr. Bruning then brought in fire investigators and building code experts to photographically document the scene, collect evidence and evaluate the residence for building code violations.

The fire was classified as accidental and the cause of Jeremy’s injuries and the deaths of his mother and brother was their inability to escape and the fire department’s inability to rescue them due to barred windows and a barred front door. Further, the barred front door was the only means of egress (exit) because the back door had been boarded over.

The building code consultant, hired by Mr. Bruning, quickly located several dangerous code violations. The apartment only had one exit. The bedroom windows had permanent bars covering them. The barred front door required the use of a key to open from the inside. Fire investigators determined that this was initially an innocent small fire that led to tragic consequences because no one could escape the fire and no one could rescue the occupants.

Mr. Bruning filed suit against the property owner and the property management company in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis for the deaths of Angela and Anthony Burr and the burn injuries suffered by young Jeremy Burr. Depositions of firefighters, fire investigators and code experts were taken followed by depositions of the burn doctors who performed numerous surgeries to repair and replace Jeremy’s burned skin. It was during the burn doctors’ depositions that the horrors that face burn survivors were revealed. The burned skin on Jeremy’s body was peeled away and replaced with skin shaved from portions of Jeremy’s body that was unburned. The donor skin was perforated and stretched to increase its surface area and then stapled onto Jeremy’s body. Since Jeremy did not have enough unburned skin to replace the burned skin, doctors had to wait until the donor areas healed before taking more skin to cover his body. While waiting for the donor areas to heal enough to harvest more skin grafts portions of Jeremy’s body was covered temporarily with cadaver skin or man-made synthetic skin. This process took over 3 months. Jeremy’s medical bills were enormous.

In addition to the medical testimony, Mr. Bruning obtained a life care plan detailing the future medical needs of Jeremy for the rest of his life. The barred front gate was seized and taken into custody by Mr. Bruning. The entire apartment entrance was reconstructed to demonstrate the difficulty of exiting the apartment in an emergency. The trial began with jury selection and opening statements followed by Jeremy Burr’s pediatrician from before the fire. The pediatrician was familiar with Jeremy’s health from birth up until the time of the fire. Jeremy was a healthy and happy young boy who was doing well in preschool before the fire. Firefighters testified next but before Mr. Bruning’s fire, code and building consultants testified the case settled with both defendants for a total of $4.75 million. A trust was set up in Jeremy’s behalf which would cover Jeremy’s medical and educational needs.

Television news reports of this deadly fire shown in the St. Louis area can be seen here. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed in a house fire contact St. Louis Burn Injury Lawyer Anthony Bruning so that you get the legal representation you deserve.