Firefighter’s Claim Goes To Trial

NYC Fire Truck. Credit: CityLaw.

Tenant left on a food warmer which ignited a fire in the apartment where firefighter was injured. Firefighter John Walsh suffered a debilitating shoulder injury when putting out a fire in Miriam Michelson’s high rise apartment. Michelson observed the Sabbath and used a warming tray to prepare and heat food.  Michelson left the warming tray on while away from her apartment.  The warming tray was plugged into a timer which was plugged into a wall.  Because of faulty wiring the warming tray overheated which burned the wire’s insulation and ignited nearby combustible material.  The fire quickly spread from the kitchen to the rest of the apartment and up to the sixth floor, blowing out windows and causing an air conditioner to fall down into the courtyard, prompting a neighbor to call 911. 

Firefighter John Walsh was among the responding firefighters. Walsh, as nozzle man, helped stretch the hose and eliminate kinks in the hose. When Walsh pulled and shook out the 80-pound hose he severely injured his shoulder.  Walsh experienced severe shoulder pain after surgery and was forced to end his firefighting career.

Walsh filed a tort claim against Michelson, alleging that Michelson violated the City fire code by igniting combustible waste. The Supreme Court, Bronx County granted summary judgment in favor of Michelson and dismissed Walsh’s case. Walsh appealed.  The Appellate Division, First Department reversed, and sent the case back to the trial court.

The Appellate Division ruled that Walsh might recover if he established a reasonable connection between a Code violation and his injuries. The Appellate Department ruled that Walsh had properly alleged a violation of the Administrative Code which makes it a violation to negligently set a fire and cause combustible material to burn in such a manner as to endanger the safety of persons or property.


Walsh v Michelson, 66 N.Y.S.3d 5 (1st Dep’t, 2017).

By: Letisha Gray (Letisha is a New York Law School Student, Class of 2019.)

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