LA Sues Developer for $20 Million Over Massive Apartment Fire

The City of Los Angeles is suing a developer over damages sustained during a massive apartment complex fire in December, 2014. The fire destroyed the seven-story Da Vinci Apartment complex that was under construction at the time. It also damaged nearby buildings and Interstate 110.

The complaint claims the City sustained over $80 million in damages from the December 8, 2014 fire. “The spread of radiant heat from the fire was the primary cause of damages to the City. But the City Properties also suffered water damage due to fire sprinkler activation. And the City incurred damages due to the firefighting activities necessary to put out the fire and prevent it from spreading to other properties.” Insurance covered $61 million of the city’s losses.

The suit names developer Geoffrey H. Palmer and several of his business entities, including GH Palmer Associates, and Palmer Temple Street Properties, LLC. The City claims the defendants failed to take adequate steps to protect neighboring properties from the risk of fire.

The fire was allegedly set by Dawud Abdulwali, who is awaiting trial. LA City Attorney Mike Feuer was quoted by MyNewsLA.com as saying: “We’re fighting to fully compensate the city’s taxpayers for losses we allege could have been avoided had this massive building incorporated key safety measures and been better constructed.”

According to the complaint:

  • Defendants did not properly maintain, construct, modify, alter, control, protect, oversee, supervise or otherwise manage the Da Vinci Apartments, and by doing so did not comply with those reasonable, accepted and workmanlike construction practices necessary under the circumstances. Defendants allowed the creation of a fire hazard at the Da Vinci Apartments and without concern to the life or property of others by their improper and defective construction methods, which include, but are not limited, to the following:
    • Failing to have an appropriate fire protection plan in place;
    • Constructing a building more susceptible than normal to becoming swiftly engulfed in flames without an appropriate fire protection plan in place;
    • Failing to have any appropriate fire prevention measures;
    • Constructing a building more susceptible than normal to becoming swiftly engulfed in flames without appropriate fire prevention measures;
    • Failing to comply with industry standards for fire safety and prevention during construction, including but not limited to those standards discussed in National Fire Prevention Association Code No. 241, also known as NFPA 241;
    • Failing to compartmentalize construction;
    • Failing to properly install fire wrap, fire walls, or fire doors, or to install them at all;
    • Failing to have appropriate and sufficient fire suppression or fire protection equipment;
    • Failing to have appropriate security measures that would curtail, prohibit or prevent incursion into the Da Vinci Apartments by unwanted individuals, despite the foreseeability of such events on a construction site;
    • Failing to comply with Chapter 33 of the Los Angeles City Fire Code, including but not limited to requirements for having an appropriate s.afety plan in the event of a fire;
    • Failing to employ fire resistant or fire suppression details during the subject stage of construction;
    • Violating the California Fire Code and the Los Angeles City Fire Code, including section 3312.1 of Chapter 33 of the LA CFC, which requires “[a]n approved water supply for fire protection… be made available as soon as combustible material arrives on the site” (emphasis added);
    • Failing to have an appropriate water supply available to suppress fire arising from the combustible material on site at the Da Vinci Apartments;
    • Allowing the construction of the Da Vinci Apartments to proceed despite the foregoing issues which would, if a fire erupted, expose adjacent people and property to harm by fire; and
    • Ignoring industry-wide recognition of the dangers of construction sites with large fuel loads such as a wood frame construction, and proceeding with insufficient safety features in place to suppress or limit fire damage in the event of a fire.
  • Because of the foregoing construction, oversight and maintenance deficiencies at the Da Vinci Apartments, the fire quickly consumed the building, creating so much smoke, soot, ash, fire, and heat that it damaged the City Properties across the street

The complaint list three counts: negligence, trespass and nuisance.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Los Angeles v. Palmer

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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