After a fire at a California group home killed two residents and left a third hospitalized, authorities arrested a fourth resident. They believe this resident might have intentionally started the fire.
Despite this development, a number of things might point to negligence on the part of the group home itself. The injured victim will probably be able to pursue a lawsuit to compensate him for severe burn injuries and the other victims' family members might have wrongful death claims.
According to early reports, this group home operated as a sober living community. The house itself, however, did not have a license or zoning permission to function as anything other than single family home. Surprisingly, 19 people were living in the house at the time and some news sources indicate that some of these residents were sleeping in closets because the bedrooms were all full.
When the late-night fire broke out last week, only 17 residents made it out of the building. This could very likely be a direct result of the overcrowding. Single family homes must comply with housing code requirements to make sure that the structures have safe escape routes. By cramming 19 people into this building, the group home could have run an enormously unreasonable risk of injury in the case of an emergency.
This liability would exist even if one of the residents started the fire - the home's mistake may have been in creating the conditions for a foreseeable fire to become fatal.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Man arrested during probe of deadly Pasadena fire," Nov. 2, 2012