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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Blamed on Poor Building Maintenance

Firefighters were dispatched to an abandoned building on Dec. 22, 2010. While several men were sent inside to search for occupants and extinguish the blaze, others worked outside cutting holes in the roof to ventilate the building. The roof suddenly collapsed, killing two men inside and injuring 19 others. The cause of death was listed as “compressional asphyxia from a roof collapse.”

Children of one of the firefighters filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the building owners. The plaintiffs argued that their father’s death could have been prevented had the building been up to code. Records indicated that the owners were previously cited with 14 separate violations, but the building was never repaired and it became a haven for homeless people seeking shelter.

The lawsuit follows an investigation report citing that poor communications, an insufficient number of radios and the lack of a system to alert the Fire Department of hazardous buildings put the firefighters at risk. Only 5 of the 13 firefighters inside the building when the roof collapsed had radios, and none of them provided supervisors outside with a description of the internal conditions. The report also stated that supervisors outside the building were unaware what was occurring inside as flames crawled up the wooden beams to the ceiling. Were the firefighters too busy searching for occupants and extinguishing the blaze that they forgot to communicate with the crew outside? If these procedures had been in place that December day would these fatalities have been avoidable? What about the fact that the city’s Department of Buildings lacks procedures to provide firefighters the necessary information about dangerous buildings?

Despite the report, the plaintiffs believe the Fire Department did their job properly and negligence rests solely with the building owners, although they feel the Building Department could have done more to ensure the building was up to code, torn down, or at minimum posted signs as to the dangerous building.

Premises liability is an issue for the owners of the building. If there were violations of fire code regulations, or a failure of the Fire Department to have adequate procedures in place, this would be negligence.

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