Wedgwood Senior Apartments accused of negligence in wake of deadly fire

According to attorney Michelle Maloney, management’s lack of fire safety at the building was “fundamentally wrong.”

The beginning of the year has been a tragic one for residents of the Wedgwood Senior Apartments in San Antonio. On December 28, a fire erupted in the building, killing five and injuring dozens more. A sixth resident died days after the fire. Residents have since been told that the apartments will be uninhabitable for the foreseeable future, although they have since been able to get back to gather a few belongings. Wedgwood is a senior housing complex in the Castle Hills neighborhood that housed hundreds of residents aged 55 or older. The surviving residents of Wedgwood have had to scramble to find housing since the fire.

Questions about the condition of the facility prior to the fire remain. Six months before the fire several residents had filed a lawsuit alleging that bird feces had contaminated the apartment's drinking water and caused illnesses to several residents, including spores found in one resident's lungs. In addition, in the wake of the fire asbestos was found in areas of the building, a known carcinogen and hazardous material.

Residents unprotected and unprepared for fire

Importantly, a recent suit also alleges that management failed to have adequate fire protection in the building. The suit claims that management failed to install or maintain sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and smoke alarms. The lawsuit also alleges management failed to properly instruct residents on proper evacuation techniques in the event of an emergency. "You can choose to do what's safe for your residents, or you can choose not to do what's safe for your residents," said Maloney. "You cannot market a building to seniors and then fail to provide basic safety precautions."

During the fire, many residents were uncertain how to react and evacuate. Released 911 calls revealed many residents had questions about how to safely get out of the building. Residents in wheelchairs, for example, were not sure if they could take the elevators out of the building, and what their options were if unable to use the staircase.

The Bexar County Fire Marshal's Office is conducting an investigation into the cause of the fire, which is still ongoing. A fire inspection months prior to the fire revealed no infractions - Castle Hills had exempted the facility from its citywide sprinkler requirements, which the neighborhood adopted in 2012. San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood has since told media that city officials are investigating whether to require all high-rise apartments to install sprinklers, considering the devastation wrought by the fire at Wedgwood.

Regardless of whether the apartment complex was technically up to code, former residents are questioning the moral and ethical choice of failing to maintain smoke detectors and alarms in a senior housing complex. In fact, Maloney has not ruled out a lawsuit against Castle Hills for allowing the building to refuse to install sprinklers.

Civil liability for negligent property management

Property owners and managers have a legal duty to keep an apartment complex free of known dangers. This includes having adequate security and proper fire safety measures. The absence of such basic safety measures means that in the event of an emergency, residents are much more at risk for injury and death.

The attorneys at Marynell Maloney Law Firm, PLLC, have years of experience representing victims harmed through negligence, including residents of nursing homes and senior housing.

Keywords: Wegwood apartment fire, fire safety, property management, negligence, personal injury lawsuit, wrongful death.