The family of a man who died in a fire at a homeless encampment in Oceanside, California last year, has filed suit against the City of Oceanside, San Diego County, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). The Estate of Gabriel Pritchard, Pritchard’s mother Deborah Otero, and his brother Manuel Contreras filed suit in San Diego County Superior court.
The suit alleges wrongful death and negligence. Quoting from the complaint:
- At all times hereinafter mentioned, Decedent was a transient who frequented and/or resided at a hillside encampment located at and/or near 1315 Union Plaza Ct. & 1320 Union Plaza Ct., Oceanside.
- On or about May 15, 2022, Decedent GABRIEL PRITCHARD was a transient residing at a known encampment located at and/or near 1315 Union Plaza Ct. & 1320 Union Plaza Ct. when a fire erupted at the hillside encampment.
- Plaintiffs … allege that Decedent GABRIEL PRITCHARD became trapped in the subject hillside encampment fire, was unable to escape, and ultimately perished in the fire due to burn injuries and/or smoke inhalation.
- Following the subject incident, Defendants … failed to conduct a thorough search of the hillside encampment and thus failed to locate Decedent GABRIEL PRITCHARD’s corpse.
- When Plaintiffs had not heard from Decedent for some time, Plaintiffs filed a missing person’s report and went looking for Decedent themselves. More than ten (10) days after the subject fire, Plaintiffs found Decedent GABRIEL PRITCHARD’s burnt corpse at the subject hillside encampment.
- Plaintiffs … allege that Defendants … created, owned, built, drafted, engineered, designed, inspected, regulated, modified, directed, supervised, planned, contracted, constructed, managed, serviced, repaired, maintained, used, occupied, and controlled the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the subject hillside encampment, and owed non-delegable duties to Decedent and other members of the public in connection with the SUBJECT LOCATION and, pursuant to Government Code … are vicariously liable for torts of their agents, associates, employees, contractors (independent or otherwise), consultants, partners, vendors and/or joint venturers including… for negligently, carelessly and/or recklessly planning, owning, building, installing, reviewing, evaluating, directing, designing, maintaining, allowing, permitting, regulating, contracting, controlling, servicing, inspecting, repairing, modifying, altering, monitoring, managing, constructing, controlling, warning or failing to warn of, failing to remove, allowing to remain, and/or supervising the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the subject hillside encampment, and said negligent, careless and reckless acts or failures to act created said dangerous and defective conditions of said properties which legally caused the subject incident, Decedent’s untimely death, and the injuries and damages to Plaintiffs as herein alleged.
- Plaintiffs … allege that at all times mentioned herein, and at the time of Decedent’s death, the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the hillside encampment, was defective and contained various dangerous conditions and defects pursuant to Government Code … including, but not limited to, hazardous trees and dry bushes, brush, and/or other vegetation that was highly flammable and created a substantial and reasonably foreseeable fire risk when the SUBJECT LOCATION was used with due care in a reasonable manner.
- Based on the aforementioned facts, the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the hillside encampment, constituted a dangerous condition of public property at the time of the subject incident that created a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury to persons using the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the hillside encampment, in a reasonable manner.
- Plaintiffs … allege that [Defendants]… had… actual and/or constructive knowledge of said dangerous and defective conditions at the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the hazardous trees and dry bushes, brush, and/or other vegetation at and/or near the hillside encampment area surrounding and within the SUBJECT LOCATION, for a sufficient period of time prior to the subject fire to have taken measures to prevent such incidents due to the longstanding physical appearance and conditions of the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the hillside encampment, as well as the trees and/or vegetation surrounding and within the SUBJECT LOCATION, which showed obvious signs of, among other things, fire hazard.
- These dangerous and defective conditions at the SUBJECT LOCATION, including the hillside encampment, existed for a sufficient period of time prior to the subject fire for Defendants to have taken reasonable measures to prevent the subject incident.
- However, Defendants, and each of them, negligently, carelessly, and recklessly failed to do so.
- Plaintiffs … allege that said Defendants’ acts and/or omissions, and each of them, and other wrongful conduct directly, legally, and proximately caused, and were a substantial factor in causing, the subject fire, Decedent’s death, and the injuries and damages complained of by Plaintiffs herein.
Here is a copy of the complaint:
Here is a video about the fire and the family’s claims.