OUR VIEW: Where there’s smoke, there’s confusion

Research reveals smoke alarms save lives, and yet the courts found it "mere conjecture" that an early warning would have prevented injury.

Surrey firefighters fight a duplex fire.

If you’re in the mood to contemplate perplexing civil court decisions, read our story about a Delta couple renting a home without a smoke alarm.

SEE MORE: Delta tenants burned out in fire lose second round in court against landlord who didn’t install smoke alarms

There’s a late-night fire, which kills the couple’s dog. The tenants sue their landlord, telling a judge they didn’t have time to use fire extinguishers they’d purchased because by the time they were awoken the fire was already too big for them to fight.

The couple claims to have badgered the landlord to install smoke alarms, but he didn’t. The trial judge finds the landlord negligent in not installing and maintaining smoke alarms but dismisses the couple’s claim against the landlord because somehow, it’s “mere conjecture” that an early warning would have prevented their injuries.

The couple then launches an appeal, and the Appeal Court denies their claim, finding “no evidence that a smoke alarm would probably have woken the occupants and allowed them to escape before the fire progressed beyond the smoke stage.”

Meantime, in an apparently parallel universe, a study by Surrey city staff and the University of the Fraser Valley revealed that fire damage is reduced by 19 per cent when a working smoke alarm is present and the death rate per 1,000 fires is 74 per cent greater when a working smoke alarm isn’t present.

It’s a head scratcher, for sure. The research says smoke alarms save lives, but the courts say it’s “mere conjecture” that such an early warning system would have prevented the tenants’ injuries in this court case.


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