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Heat Wave Injuries, Illnesses: Who's Liable?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A heat wave has much of the country sweltering this week. That may be great for tomatoes and ice cream vendors, but excessive heat can also cause injuries and illness when temperatures rise to dangerous levels.

In many states, the mercury has risen into the high 90s for three or more consecutive days, presenting a "dangerous" situation for many people, The Weather Channel reports. Across the country, hundreds have been treated at hospitals for heat-related conditions.

So when injuries occur from these long, hot spells, can anyone be held liable?

What Are Heat Injuries and Illnesses?

Many Americans may be familiar with the sunburns and dehydration that come from being out in the sun on a hot day, but there are more serious injuries that can occur in a heat wave.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat stroke, the opposite of hypothermia which can land an untreated person in the hospital or even in a coma. Heat-related illness may even be responsible for flu-like symptoms in healthy persons and can lead to death in the most serious cases.

Heat injuries and illness can potentially lead to legal liability as well. Consider a few scenarios:

Schools May Be Liable For Children

Young children are especially vulnerable to dehydration and heat illness if not properly supervised, and schools may be liable for their injuries under a theory of negligent supervision.

Dangerous heat wave conditions on playgrounds, like searing hot metal slides, may also present legal problems for schools under a theory of premises liability.

Ambulance Delays May Be Costly

Unfortunately for one New York heat wave victim -- a city council intern -- calling 911 didn't yield a response for over half an hour on Tuesday, reports New York City's NY1.

With certain injuries, including heat-related ones, emergency response is critical, and ambulance delays that are due to negligence may be cause for a lawsuit.

Employers Are Liable for Employee Safety

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, employers have to provide employees relief from heat stress, especially for employees who work outside.

Each state has different standards for employers to prevent heat illness, but in any case, failure to provide employees with relief from heat wave conditions while on the job, like proper access to drinking water, can leave a business owner wide open for a lawsuit.

Landlords Bear Little Liability

Even during a heat wave, your landlord is generally not responsible for keeping your apartment cool or air-conditioned, although he may be obligated to fix any A/C unit that is attached to your rental.

If you suffer heat injuries or illness due to extreme heat in your apartment, you may not be able to recover, unless you're dehydrated because your landlord hasn't provided cold water.

Take Care of Yourself

Despite the legal avenues potentially available to heat wave injury victims, every person should strive to stay hydrated and keep cool as much as possible in order to ride out a heat wave injury-free.

If you have more questions about possible legal action arising from a heat-related injury or illness, you may want to consult an experienced personal injury attorney near you.

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