20 January, 2020
Forbes has recently represented the interests of a local authority in an Inquest following the death of a man in a house fire in 2018.
In a tragic accident, an elderly man died as the result of injuries caused in a house fire. Following his death an Inquest was arranged. Inquests are legal inquiries into the cause and circumstance of a death and are held whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a death was due to anything other than natural causes. They are fact-finding inquiries and the Coroner will invite 'interested persons' to participate in the Inquest.
In this instance, the Local Authority had arranged the deceased's care and as a result, an Adult Care Social Worker employed by the Local Authority was called to give evidence at the Inquest.
The deceased was a large, elderly man who was unable to weight bear. The Fire Report concluded that he had been smoking in his armchair and it was likely that the careless use of smoking materials by the deceased had caused the fire. However, it was also noted that the emollient contamination of the skin and clothing may have increased the speed and development of the fire and this was one of the issues to be raised at the inquest.
At the inquest, the Coroner heard evidence from the relevant parties and made the following key findings:
On the balance of probability, the coroner concluded that the death was accidental and the initial cause of the fire was likely to be a lit cigarette falling to the floor and lighting papers nearby.
This was a tragic accident and it was clear from all the evidence presented during the Inquest that the deceased was appropriately cared for each day. His smoking habits had been identified as a potential source of danger and steps had been taken to carry out a risk assessment. The risks had been pointed out to the deceased and efforts had been made to get him to stop smoking. There was no evidence that the emollient applied to his body had accelerated the fire and in any event, the carers had only applied barrier cream and not the emollient cream found at the property.
In the circumstances, the Coroner did not issue a Prevent Future Death (PFD) Regulation 28 report. A Coroner has the legal power and duty to issue a report if it appears that there is a risk of other deaths occurring in similar circumstances pursuant to Regulation 28 of the Coroners (Inquest) Regulations 2013. The organisation or person in receipt of the report then has 56 days to provide a response. The response must detail the action taken or to be taken, whether in response to the report or otherwise, and the timetable for it, or it must explain why no action is proposed. A copy of the report is also sent to the Chief Coroner and interested persons who in the coroner's opinion should receive it.
The Inquest was concluded without any adverse findings against the local authority. Throughout the Inquest process, Forbes provided guidance and supported staff with their witness statements and submissions. Forbes also provided legal representation during the Inquest hearing to ensure the Local Authority's position was protected.