Maynard, Ochsner Get $10M Wrongful Death Settlement
C. Douglas Maynard Jr., and Ann C. Ochsner recently reached a $10 million settlement in a wrongful death case where four people died in an apartment fire and emergency workers were accused of negligent conduct.
Maynard of the Law Offices of C. Douglas Maynard Jr., PLLC in Winston-Salem and Ochsner of the Whitley Law Firm in Raleigh represented two of the estates. Maynard is a member of the NCAJ Auto Torts & Premises Liability Section, Professional Negligence Section and Workers’ Compensation Section. Ochsner is a member of the NCAJ Board of Governors, Auto Torts & Premises Liability Section, New Lawyers Division and Women’s Caucus.
Date of settlement: 2022
Insurance carriers: Travelers insured the county. The name of the apartment insurer is withheld.
Other attorneys for plaintiffs: One of the two estates was also represented by Jeffrey N. Powers of the Powers Law Group, LLC in Macon, Georgia. Christopher B. Newbern of Piasta Newbern Walker, LLC in Atlanta; Stephen Chance of Watkins, Lourie, Roll & Chance, PC in Atlanta and Mark E. Murray of The Murray Law Firm in Atlanta represented two of the estates.
The names and numbers of the cases and the name of the court are withheld.
Four young adults were killed in an apartment fire in 2019 in the upstairs apartment of a four-unit apartment building which started about 3 a.m.
Two separate lawsuits were filed: one by two of the estates and the other by the other two estates. The lawsuits were filed against the apartment complex, the county, and the 911 operators in their official and individual capacities. The applicable governmental insurance policies had a non-waiver of governmental immunity provision so they only covered the actions of the 911 operators in their individual capacities as public employees.
The claims against the apartment complex were resolved after a joint time limit / policy demand on behalf of the four estates was accepted shortly before the scheduled depositions of the 911 operators. Plaintiffs’ asserted that the apartment complex was aware of dangerous conditions including, but not limited to, a cigarette bucket beneath the wooden staircase in the front of the building surrounded by flammable debris, a building occupant who routinely smoked and drank alcohol in a chair in front of the apartment and discarded cigarettes near and around the metal bucket, and of the condition of the apartment bedroom window.
Counsel for the estates were able to obtain numerous documents through Freedom of Information Requests pre-suit as well as information through consent protective orders which were entered pre-suit including: unredacted 911 calls of the downstairs cigarette smoking apartment occupant who was the first to call 911; an occupant of the other upstairs apartment who successfully jumped to safety; and one of the decedents. The 911 call of the decedent in which the other decedents can be heard was very disturbing. Other documents obtained contain video interviews taken by officers, the dashcam video of officer’s vehicle who was first on the scene, the fire marshal’s file including photos, police department files, and 911 training records and manuals. When the first officer arrived at the apartment complex the front of the apartment building including the wooden steps were fully involved. The rear of the apartment building suffered virtually no damage.
A joint time limit policy limit demand was submitted to the county insurer by all four estates shortly after the depositions of the 911 operators. The primary allegations were that the county training manual only contained one directive for the operators handling a structure fire with occupants trapped: “If anyone is still inside and it is safe to do so, please ask them to leave.” Both 911 operators confirmed such was not done. Instead, the occupants were advised not to open a window through which they could have jumped to their safety, and instead to essentially hunker down until firefighters arrived. The primary 911 operator, against county policy, repeatedly promised that emergency personnel would get the decedents out. By the time firefighters accessed the apartment through the back window area, three of the young adults were dead and the fourth died shortly afterwards. The 911 operators had no specific training on fire calls and had never handled a structure fire with occupants in a structure.
Although investigated by numerous agencies including the SBI, the source of the fire was never definitively determined.
Report submitted by C. Douglas Maynard