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GEK Attorneys Reach Substantial Settlement in Premises Liability Case

Home. One word that conjures up a myriad of images. The size doesn’t matter. The “type” doesn’t matter—single-family, apartment, condominium. It’s all about the people in it and the feeling of safety within its walls.

That feeling of safety can be shattered in an instant, however, as it was for a client of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK).  He relied on the owner of his apartment building to place the health and well-being of his tenants at the forefront of his responsibilities. The owner was not of the same mindset. In fact, by failing to meet fire code standards—repeatedly—he displayed a willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of his tenants. That disregard caused the death of our client’s parents who perished when the building became engulfed in flames.

“This was a slumlord type of situation in which the property owner allowed dangerous conditions to exist in the building, despite repeated warnings from the Fire Department, which ultimately led to disaster,” says Howard Krepack, a Personal Injury partner at GEK. “He not only put the lives of his tenants at risk, but also, as it turned out, the lives of the firefighters who responded to the call.”

The devastation from the inferno, which started as a kitchen fire in one of the first-floor units then spread throughout the structure, could have been minimized if the building owner had not been in violation of several fire code sections. In fact, the building had been placed on fire watch (surveillance of a premises to identify and control fire hazards) several times for a multitude of violations, including the following:

  • Multiple fire doors that were damaged and didn’t close completely
  • Broken self-closing mechanisms on fire doors
  • Multiple fire doors were propped open
  • Non-certified fire alarm and fire protection system
  • Non-certified fire extinguishers
  • Exit signs that were broken or missing bulbs

A local fire inspector not only pointed out the necessary repairs to the owner and property manager several times, but also explained, on repeated visits, the importance and significance of fire doors. However, at no time prior to the fire had the fire code violations been abated. In fact, ever after the fire, the landlord continued to be non-compliant with many of the violations that pre-dated the fire.
Had the fire doors on the first and third floor been working, they would have compartmentalized and contained the fire and smoke within a portion of the first-floor corridor. Instead, however, the fire spread and turned the third floor into a blazing inferno.

“Through expert testimony and a thorough investigation by the Fire Department, we proved that the spread of the fire from its origin on the first floor to the third floor was due to the negligence of the landlord and its agents, and that the negligence had catastrophic consequences,” says Eugenia Steele, a GEK partner. “The landlord breached its duty of care.”

That breach also caused many people to be injured and hundreds to be displaced.
“Even though we reached a substantial, confidential settlement for our client, nothing can bring back his parents.  An irreplaceable hole has been left not only in his family but also in the hearts of his parents’ dear friends,” says Krepack.

More than 3,500 people in the United States die each year because of fires and another 20,000 are injured, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). Many of those deaths and injuries occur in buildings such as the one in which our client lived. In an effort to prevent such tragedies, the USFA created a Factsheet on High-Rise Safety.
What is evident from GEK’s case and this fact sheet is the importance of fully functional fire doors. The following are some fire door tips:

  • They must be certified by recognized testing laboratories, and must have the lab’s certification label.
  • They must not be held open unless equipped with a device that releases the doors upon activation of the fire alarm.
  • Fire doors are needed where a door has an exit sign on or around it, leads to exit stairwells and horizontal exits or leads to a hazardous area, such as flammable storage.

“It is clear from the outcome of our case that the tort system is vital to improving safety. Sometimes change only comes about when the need for it is felt in the wallet. Slumlords will continue to be slumlords until their actions affect their bottom line,” says Krepack.

GEK has had great success representing clients harmed by unsafe premises. If you would like to talk to an attorney about your case, please contact us at 213-739-7000 or click here to learn more about your legal options. 

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