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Landlord, tobacco firm sued in woman's death

February 25, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- The daughter of a woman who died in a February 2006 fire filed suit last week in Washington County Circuit Court, asking for $30 million from a tobacco company and another defendant.

The suit filed Feb. 19 by Dawn Bunch, whose mother died in a fire that was sparked by a cigarette, names Lorillard Tobacco Company and Barbara Bristow, of 1013 Oak Hill Avenue in Hagerstown, as defendants. Bristow owned the property where Bunch and her mother, Linda Ford, lived, according to court documents.

Bunch alleges in the suit Lorillard "negligently manufactured, manipulated, sold and placed into the stream of commerce cigarettes that were involved in causing the injuries to Plaintiff ... Lorillard's product was unreasonably dangerous because Lorillard manipulated and designed the tobacco product in a manner that caused an unreasonable risk of fire. A safer alternative design, such as a self-extinguishing cigarette, was available at the time the cigarettes were manufactured."

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A Lorillard spokesman said Wednesday he was not familiar with the suit and was unable to comment.

The suit alleges Bristow "breached the duty of ordinary care by not providing proper fire protection and warning devices in the home rented to Plaintiff."

Bristow said Wednesday she was not aware of the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Bunch's mother, 58-year-old Linda Ford, died after the Feb. 20, 2006, fire started in a mattress and set her hair on fire, which sent her searching for water to extinguish it, according to published reports at the time. But a maintenance worker had turned off the water at the mobile home near Park Circle earlier in the day and had told Ford to call a plumber to fix a cracked pipe, fire officials told The Herald-Mail in the days following the fire.

Mike Weller, fire prevention officer for the Hagerstown Fire Department, was quoted in a published story as saying the fire was a result of careless smoking.

Bunch was injured in the fire. She was taken to Washington County Hospital for treatment of second-degree burns to her hip and smoke inhalation, according to published reports.

In the suit, Bunch asks for $10 million for medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, mental anguish, physical pain and disfigurement.

She asks for another $10 million as a representative of Ford's estate under the Maryland Wrongful Death Statute, citing mental anguish damages because of Ford's death, funeral expenses and "punitive and exemplary damages as defendants were fraudulent, malicious, willful or grossly negligent."

Bunch asked for a final $10 million under the Maryland Survival Statute, citing Ford's physical pain and suffering.

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