Philadelphia, December 10, 2014 – After four days of trial, attorney Thomas More Marrone of Greenblatt Pierce Engle Funt & Flores won a $4.85 million settlement in a catastrophic apartment fire Class Action on behalf of nearly 150 residents.
The Class Action lawsuit in Philadelphia accused the building owners of failing to prevent the tragedy. The large four-story Windemere Court apartment complex was razed to the ground after a major fire that spread across the entire 90-unit complex in January 2011. It took approximately 140 firefighters more than 11 hours to extinguish the blaze. The residents were left homeless and without any possessions except the clothes on their backs.
The owners of the Windemere Court Apartments agreed to the settlement after only several days into the trial held before Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mary Colins.
“This settlement means everything to the Class members because, after waiting almost four years and after having lost almost everything they had — including their peace of mind — they’re finally getting back that peace of mind,” said Marrone.
The Court-Approved settlement provides the Class members with more than 100% of their property loss claims after payment of legal fees – a rare if not unprecedented result.
“I can’t tell you the hugs and the crying of the Class members and the notes and the calls that I’ve been getting,” Marrone said, “they have just been so gratifying.”
Filed in May 2011 against the apartment complex owners and their respective management companies, the lawsuit claimed they were negligent in managing the property on 48th & Walnut Street.
Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately return requests for comment.
The suit alleged that management failed to adequately train a Windemere Court maintenance employee, who cut power to the fire alarm system when it did sound, and that the four-story building lacked properly functioning smoke detection, fire alarm and sprinkler systems. On behalf of the Class, Marrone alleged that this negligence caused a delay in reporting the fire to 911, allowing it to spread from a single second-floor apartment through to the roof and continue on to the rest of the structure.
The lawsuit stated that in the days after the incident, the Department of Licenses and Inspections deemed the structure unstable and residents were barred from entering their former apartments to retrieve their personal property. When two former tenants launched the Class Action in February of 2011, they said that more than 100 people were affected by the fire and were not able to return to salvage their belongings from the site for several weeks. By then, anything remaining had been exposed to the elements and left vulnerable to looters and vandals. Finally, after numerous demands, they were permitted to salvage what belongings they could fit into a trash bag.
Demolition was initiated just over 30 days after the fire. An exact cause of the fire was never determined.
Though it took nearly four years for the case to be brought in front of a jury, the proposed settlement was reached just four days into a civil trial. The plaintiffs were overjoyed, with some bursting into tears in the courtroom hallway after hearing the news, Marrone said.
“They’re just wonderful, wonderful people who were so patient and put their faith in me,” he said. “I’m so pleased that they will finally have peace of mind.”
The Windemere settlement was listed as one of the Top PA Settlements of 2014 by VerdictSearch’s Top PA Verdicts of 2014, published by ALM Media, LLC.
The case is Schall et al v. Windemere Court Apartments et al, case number 110201248 in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
Complete coverage of this story can be found on the Philly.com and Law360.com.