Landlord and Fire Department Sued Over Fatal NJ Fire

A fatal house fire that led to criminal charges against a New Jersey landlord, has resulted in a wrongful death suit accusing the landlord and the local fire department with negligence. Haven Davenport died in the March 19, 2021 fire in Franklin Borough. She was 13 at the time.

The landlord, Walter Biller, allegedly failed to have rental home inspected prior to Davenport and her family moving in.  According to the New Jersey Herald, the smoke detectors did not alert the family to the fire. Biller was subsequently charged with violating a safety law that led to a reckless death.  He pled guilty in April, 2022 and was sentenced to five years probation.

The lawsuit filed by Haven’s parents, Matthew and Dorothy, in Sussex County Superior Court blames Biller and the Franklin Fire Department for Haven’s death. According to Darik News, the complaint alleges that responding firefighters had been at a local event and had been drinking prior to the alarm. It is unclear from news reports what else specifically the firefighters did that contributed to Haven’s death. A copy of the complaint is not available, but will be posted her if/when it becomes available. More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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