Couple injured in apartment complex fire files lawsuit against landlord

Jon Campisi Sep. 8, 2011, 5:25pm

A husband and wife who claim they suffered serious bodily injuries after a fire at their apartment complex, a blaze that took firefighters 10 house to get under control, has filed a civil action against the property’s owner, alleging the company’s inaction indirectly led to their trauma.

Philadelphia attorney Keith Levinson filed the personal injury lawsuit Sept. 7 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Wilbert and Sherry Depew, who live in Northeast Philadelphia.

The defendants listed in the lawsuit are Austin Manor Associates, LP; Austin GP, LLC; Depaul Realty Company; Depaul Management Company; Depaul Contracting, Inc.; Tony Depaul and Son; Philadelphia Detection Systems and Diane McGrath.

According to the complaint, a fire broke out on Nov. 22, 2009, at about 4:30 in the morning, in Building A of the Austin Manor Apartments at 7024 Rising Sun Avenue. The building was three stories high, measured about 300 feet long and 40 feet wide, and consisted of brick and frame construction. It had 42 apartments with a long central interior corridor.

At the time of the fire, the lawsuit states, the plaintiffs resided in an apartment in Building B, which suffered its own damages from fire, water, smoke and firefighting efforts on the part of emergency workers who were called in to extinguish the blaze.

The complaint states that the fire spread to the plaintiffs’ building because the units lacked appropriate firewalls, and the building was constructed mostly of plywood, drywall and metal.

“The fire spread rapidly because, inter alia, the horizontal and vertical voids did not have fire stopping or fire protections,” the lawsuit claims. “The apartment building also did not have any fire detection, alarm or suppression devices within the horizontal voids, vertical chases, or other plenum spaces.”

The lawsuit states that prior to the November 2009 blaze, the apartment complex experienced a number of false fire alarms, but the residents were instructed by staff to “ignore the alarms and go back to bed.”

On the night of the fire, however, the smoke and fire detection and alarm systems were “faulty,” the suit states, and failed to perform properly.

The complaint alleges that the defendant improperly utilized employees and contractors to work on fire alarm systems, fire prevention systems and fire standpipe systems, and electrical systems who were not qualified to do so.

Furthermore, the suit states, the defendants “knowingly and improperly allowed residents to use personal heating devices, open ovens, open flames and other equipment in excess of heat and code requirements.”

“Defendants negligently and carelessly failed to eliminate known life threatening fire hazards, choosing instead to maximize profit at the expense of Plaintiffs’ life, well-being, livelihood and property,” the lawsuit claims.

As a result of the fire, the plaintiff’s sustained serious and personal injuries requiring emergency medical treatment, the suit states. They also suffered mental trauma and emotional distress.

The plaintiffs have also been unable to resume many of their regular duties and activities, they have suffered a loss of earnings and they have suffered further financial detriment.

The lawsuit faults the defendants for various examples of negligence such as failing to exercise proper care and diligence over the property, failing to properly inspect and maintain areas of the premises, and improperly designing, constructing and renovating the buildings in question.

Each plaintiff demands judgment against the defendants, jointly, severally and/or singularly, in a sum in excess of the arbitrational limits, or $50,000.

A jury trial has not been demanded.

The case number is 110900355.

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