On March 22, 2011, J.M. was living in a boarding house in Columbus Junction, Iowa. J.M. paid a weekly rent for a room within the boarding house. The landlord of the facility collected rent from approximately nine tenants. The configuration of the boarding house was that there was a kitchen in the front of the building, by the front door. The rooms were all behind the kitchen, towards the back of the building. Unfortunately, the only exit and entrance to the space was through the front door, by the kitchen. Other exits had been locked and closed off.On March 22, 2011, a fire started in the kitchen. J.M. was in his room at the time. Because the fire consumed the kitchen area which is where the front door was located, he was unable to exit the building. For approximately 15 minutes, J.M. made phone calls in an attempt to escape the fire. Unfortunately, he was unable to escape and suffered fatal injuries from the smoke and fire.Because of the complexity of Iowa’s wrongful death statute, the only damages that could be sought and obtained from the landlord was the pain and suffering for the period from when he was aware of the fire until his death. This was roughly 15 minutes. The landlords claimed that they were not at fault and vigorously defended the case.In December of 2013, Pothitakis Law Firm assisted by co-counsel commenced trial in Louisa County, Iowa. Ultimately, the jury agreed that the landlord was negligent and awarded $750,000 ($500,000 in actual damages and $250,000 in punitive damages).
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