$1,750,000 Verdict in Hammond, Indiana when Child Dies in Fire, Landlord Failed to Provide Adequate Smoke Detectors

October 1997

(recreation photo)

A young four-year old child died in a morning house fire where the landlord failed to provide adequate working smoke detectors in the rented house.  The family had been living in the rented house for a few weeks.

The landlord's defense team alleged the house fire was caused by negligent cooking, but there was no evidence to support the allegation.  The defense team also alleged that adequate smoke detectors had been supplied.

It was difficult to dis-prove this allegation because the Indiana Insurance Company adjusters and investigators had traveled to the house a few days after the fire and absconded with all the appliances and smoke detectors.

But, Attorney Jeff Shaw and David Phillips led the team of plaintiff's attorneys on an inspection of the burnt-out remains of the house soon after the fire.  They were able to locate the charred remains of single smoke detector on the main level under a pile of charred debris and found a battery inside.

But, what could be done with that?

We decided to investigate forensically further.  On the battery (and on each battery) was a serious of numbers with a UL logo.

The battery was sent to Underwriters' Laboratories where it was determined to be over 10 years old.  The landlord had supplied smoke detectors that didn't work.

The jury found for the mother of the deceased child and awarded damages of $1.75M, making it the record largest individual verdict in the State of Indiana versus a single landlord at that time.

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Practice area(s): Personal Injury


David R. Phillips

An experienced attorney, David R. Phillips, has been in practice for over 28 years. His clients reside primarily in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties in Indiana; he can also refer clients to colleagues in Illinois when appropriate. Prior to his present firm in Chesterton, Phillips had practiced at one of the area's most prominent, large law firms and has experience representing clients in civil litigation and insurance cases. He has successfully represented clients in dozens of jury trials throughout Indiana. In his family law practice, he takes the collaborative approach to law whenever possible, leading to the best possible outcome for all involved. His passion for justice, freedom, and civil rights drive him to maintain his personal integrity and the dignity of his clients in every case. He strives to keep the individual needs of each client first and foremost. Phillips has been 'Highly Rated' by his peers and honored as 'Notable in Legal Ability and Ethical Standards.' Phillips is the architect of four separate jury verdicts of $500,000 or more including a $1,750,000 Wrongful Death jury verdict and a $1,460,000 jury verdict for a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) client. Phillips is active in his community by coaching and advocating for youth sports. He coached youth baseball for over 8 years, and continues to be involved as an assistant. An animal lover, he spends free time outdoors with his family and one, or more, of his three dogs. With its natural beauty and serene trails, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is his favorite hiking spot.

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