Negligence lawsuit filed after fatal fire in San Antonio

A fire in a San Antonio apartment building, which killed five people, has prompted multiple lawsuits.

On a recent Sunday morning at the Wedgwood Senior Apartments in San Antonio, a three-alarm fire killed at least five people and hospitalized several others. According to USA Today, Wedgwood, a 260,000-square-foot, 11-story high-rise, houses elderly residents aged 55 and older, along with some commercial tenants. The cause of the fire is unknown, although the accident remains under investigation.

Upon notification of the fire, 150 firefighters from San Antonio and six other fire departments arrived on the scene. Among the 216 residents of the apartment building, firefighters evacuated 75 of them. In some cases, elderly residents were carried out of windows and down ladder trucks. Other residents walked down flights of stairs to exit the building.

In response to the event, KSAT recently reported that a lawsuit has been filed by the Marynell Maloney Law Firm against the Wedgwood Senior Apartments. The suit claims, in part, managerial negligence, due to the following facts:

  • There were no fire sprinklers inside the building.
  • Management failed to install or maintain smoke detectors and alarms.
  • No evacuation plan was made available to occupants.

The lack of these precautions rendered occupants vulnerable to the fire and without direction upon becoming aware of it, the lawsuit states.

Bexar County fire code requirements

Section 907 of the Bexar County Fire Code, which addresses fire detection systems, outlines fire safety mechanisms that needed to be in place. A review of this section indicates that multiple required precautions were unavailable to Wedgwood's occupants.

The Code demands of buildings with Wedgwood's characteristics to feature both manual and automatic smoke detection systems. Furthermore, the Code requires the activation of any detection system to prompt an alarm, followed by live or pre-recorded evacuation instructions.

In addition to fire alarm and detection systems, the Code also describes a conditional requirement for automatic sprinkler systems. As an existing structure, Wedgwood may have been required by law to have an installed automatic sprinkler system. Without one, occupants were forced to rely on the arrival of firefighters to control the fire.

Texas' negligence law

Chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code focuses on the subject of proportionate responsibility in the case of an event causing injuries. The language in this chapter clarifies that a claimant may not recover damages if his or her percentage of responsibility is greater than 50 percent.

The doctrine of proportionate responsibility in Texas applies directly to the negligence lawsuit filed on behalf of Wedgwood occupants. Representatives of these claimants may attempt to show that management or ownership neglected to install or maintain fire safety mechanisms. If this neglect is shown to have contributed to a greater extent than actions of the claimants, the defendants may be responsible for sought damages.

Keywords: negligence, accident, injury