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Archive for Monday, May 18, 2009

$12 million settlement reached in lawsuit over deadly 2005 Boardwalk Apartment fire

May 18, 2009

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Tory Runnells and other tenants at the Boardwalk Apartment complex, 524 Frontier Road, received a notice Friday that the apartment buildings “do not comply with fire safety standards.” Tenants have been urged to find other housing, and current tenants’ leases will not be renewed.

Tory Runnells and other tenants at the Boardwalk Apartment complex, 524 Frontier Road, received a notice Friday that the apartment buildings “do not comply with fire safety standards.” Tenants have been urged to find other housing, and current tenants’ leases will not be renewed.

$12 million settlement reached in lawsuit over deadly 2005 Boardwalk Apartment fire

Victims of the deadly October 2005 Boardwalk Apartment fire have reached a $12 million settlement with the apartment complex and its management company, their attorney said Monday. Enlarge video

The owners of the Boardwalk Apartments are urging tenants to abandon their apartments for safety reasons, just days after agreeing to a $12 million settlement with victims of a deadly 2005 fire at the complex.

Residents at Boardwalk, 524 Frontier Road, were given written notices this weekend telling them that their leases would not be renewed. The letters also told residents that they would be allowed to break their leases immediately, and would be refunded any prepaid rents or security deposits.

“For your safety, the landlord urges you to promptly seek alternative housing,” the letter states.

The news has left some residents concerned about what they’ll do next.

“It basically was a blindside to everybody,” said Tory Runnells, who had lived at Boardwalk for about one year.

He said residents also are disappointed that fire concerns still exist at the complex. The October 2005 blaze killed three people and injured at least 20 people — some of whom had to jump from the third floor of the apartment complex.

“I figured that they had taken care of what they needed to take care of so nobody else would die in a fire,” Runnells said. “But now that I look around, it doesn’t look too safe.”

Attempts to reach Lawrence attorney Todd Thompson, who is representing the apartment’s ownership group, weren’t immediately successful Monday. But the letter to tenants said Boardwalk Apartments L.C. was taking the action because it had been informed recently that all of its apartment buildings “do not comply with fire safety standards for newly constructed apartment buildings, and may not comply with the city’s fire safety code.”

The letter follows a May 6 out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed by family members of the three people who died in the fire and six other residents who were injured.

Mike Ketchmark, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney who represented the victims, said Boardwalk’s insurance company agreed to pay $12 million to settle three wrongful death lawsuits and six other lawsuits that had been consolidated into a single case in Jackson County District Court in Kansas City, Mo., which is where the apartment’s management company is located.

“We were happy with the result, and obviously it was a real tragedy and our clients are very happy to put this matter behind them,” Ketchmark said.

Attempts to reach several of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were unsuccessful.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether it was Boardwalk’s insurance company that had advised the complex be shut down. A major allegation in the lawsuit was that the apartment complex had an inadequate fire suppression system, alarm system and escape routes. The remaining buildings in the complex — about a dozen of them — are of the same era and construction.

Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr said the city had not ordered the apartment units to be vacated, and had not made a determination that the complex failed to meet fire codes.

It wasn’t clear what would be done with the property in the future. Boardwalk previously had won City Commission approval to build new apartments on the site of the fire.

It wasn’t immediately known how many people will be displaced by the Boardwalk closure. Runnells said many of the complex’s residents are Hispanic families with children.

“I’m young, single and male. It is not going to be nearly as difficult for me as it will be for a lot of people,” Runnells said. “There are a lot of kids out here.”

The October 2005 fire — which destroyed 76 apartment units — killed Jose Gonzalez, Yolanda Riddle and Nicole Bingham. Jason Rose was convicted of setting the fire, and currently is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Comments

grimpeur 5 years, 7 months ago

From the article: "...according to the letter singed by Todd Thompson, an attorney for Boardwalk."

Heh.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 7 months ago

Going to be harder and harder to find cheap housing now for students if everyone has to meet new "fire safety standards". And let's not blame Boardwalk for the deaths. They did not light the match.

Raider 5 years, 7 months ago

So let me get this straight.... some psycho burns down an apartment complex and it's the complex owners'; fault? I guess since the arsonist didn't have any money to sue for they went after the insurance company. Typical greedy lawyers.

What's worse is the greedy attorney (who is not even from lawrence) will walk with over 30% of these greedy peoples settlement.

imastinker 5 years, 7 months ago

Yes, this is obscene. These people chose to live there with the fire suppresion system in place. It's not like one was supposed to be there and had been intentionally disabled.

Was it up to code when it was built?

Eride 5 years, 7 months ago

Just because your building meets code doesn't mean you are not liable for injuries or deaths that occur from the inadequacy of your building. It doesn't matter that the fire was set by someone, if the fire had been unintentional the result most likely would of been the same.

Sigmund 5 years, 7 months ago

Eride (Anonymous) says… "Just because your building meets code doesn't mean you are not liable for injuries or deaths that occur from the inadequacy of your building."

Doesn't meeting code mean your building is adequate? How far above code must your building be to be adequate? Bottom line rents go up to pay additional insurance premiums not to upgrade the buildings because no matter how good your building you can always be second guessed and some expert has an ideal that nobody can afford to meet.

imastinker 5 years, 7 months ago

Sigmund - agreed! This had nothing to do with meeting code. It was a money grab. All of us pay for this via increased insurance premiums. Life sucks sometimes, but $12 million doesn't bring these people back to life.

I'm not sure what it's supposed to solve anyway. I wonder what the owner or owners of the apartment have to say. I hope they were well enough insured and diversified! This could ruin more lives than just the ones who were injured or died.

gccs14r 5 years, 7 months ago

"Doesn't meeting code mean your building is adequate?"

No. I'm sure it met code forty years ago when it was built. That doesn't mean it was adequate, nor does it mean that it would pass current code.

The Boardwalk owners will probably raze and rebuild, which will be cheaper than a retrofit. Either that, or they'll raze and abandon, since Lawrence already has too many units in inventory.

Sigmund 5 years, 7 months ago

gccs14r (Anonymous) says… "No. I'm sure it met code forty years ago when it was built. That doesn't mean it was adequate, nor does it mean that it would pass current code."

Funny I could have sworn the Fire Chief said it met all current fire codes it was required to meet. These buildings get inspected regularly, not just when they are built. That sounds "adequate" (not ideal, not perfect, but adequate) to me.

ad·e·quate Function: adjective 1: sufficient for a specific requirement ; also : barely sufficient or satisfactory 2: lawfully and reasonably sufficient http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adequate

Who but the Fire Chief makes the call that it was or wasn't adequate? Plaintiffs attorney? Hired gun expert? If someone gets hurt it is automatically not adequate? If criminal nut job intentionally starts a blaze and someone gets hurt then it isn't adequate? Just because the building was old doesn't make it inadequate otherwise we would be tearing down old buildings and building new all the time which I am sure someone would object to.

I feel sorry for the families, but that is no reason to soak the owners because it wasn't the owners fault and this will increase everyone rent. Simply asserting it might have been the owners fault if the criminal nut job had not torched the place is absurd.

tolawdjk 5 years, 7 months ago

Could have happend to a nicer complex.

Lived there one year.

Four hand delivered rent checks "lost" and late fees assessed. Produced cancelled checks demonstrating they were cashed by the company -prior- to the rent being due, to no avail.

Without a doubt, the most roach infested apartment I had ever seen. Their solution? Spray every other unit, every other month. Like clockwork, in the odd months, the roaches from the other unit would come to mine. In talking to the neighbors, their six legged friends would show back up in the months my unit was sprayed.

Upon exit, company attempted to collect for "damages" to unit...bathroom and closet door. Produced dated photos and walkthrough sheet that indicated door damage at the time of initial rental.

Yeah, greedy bastards or not, I'm glad to see them in a pickle.

Eride 5 years, 7 months ago

Let me reiterate. Meeting code does not make you immune from liability of the inadequacy of your building. You might disagree with that but that is your opinion and your opinion is factually incorrect. You are obviously lacking in knowledge of not only the legal issues of a case like this but also how the building code system works among other issues.

Most of the buildings in town that students live in don't meet current building codes because they are grandfathered in. Just because the city code doesn't MAKE you update your building inline with current code doesn't mean you aren't liable for damages when something bad happens.

Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 7 months ago

Sigmund asked "How far above code must your building be to be adequate?"

Answer: However far 12 of your peers say it must be.

gccs14r 5 years, 7 months ago

"Funny I could have sworn the Fire Chief said it met all current fire codes it was required to meet."

Think about that statement. Saying that it meets all current codes it is required to meet is not the same thing as saying it meets current code.

imastinker 5 years, 7 months ago

Thinking_out_loud:

It's more like what 12 people who can't get out of Jury duty say it must be.

Let's face it, Douglas county would be a bad place to be sued. Lawyers spend a lot of time figuring out WHERE to sue somebody for that reason.

Lori Nation 5 years, 7 months ago

Great now everyone's insurance premiums are going to be raised. Hope the settlement comes in handy for those folks. Lawrence is already expensive enough to live in.

MrMister 5 years, 7 months ago

Now where will all the landscape laborers go to live?

Christine Anderson 5 years, 7 months ago

Tolawjdk: Dang, your experience with Boardwalk sounds awful. If I hadn't read the title of the article, I would have thought you were talking about Gage Management. Now they're a real treat! Drug dealers in and out of Heatherwood all hours of night and day. Some buyers/sellers even bring their dogs (usually pitbulls) in for short "visits". Cars pulling up alongside the street in wee hours of a.m., honking. Person goes out, gets something from driver at window, and returns into complex. Balconies rotting away-lawsuit waiting to happen. They renovated all the balconies on one bldg. where they had a fire last year, and then stopped. Guess they don't think bldg. 2000 tenants deserve safe balconies. FIRE HAZARD!!! One item in their lease says "tenants not responsible for lawn care", and the next page states "tenants are responsible for lawn care and ice and snow removal". Slumlords and snakes-in-the-grass. Tenants on 2nd floor drop cigarette butts down onto lawn-don't even have the decency to put them in a damn ashtray! Lawn in front of south portion of bldg. 2000 has trash scattered about, glass bottles. Point-management does nothing about it!! Hey, anyone from LFD reading this? Come take a look at the laundry room on the 1st floor. Lint build-up to the point of being obvious fire hazard, and creates breathing problems. "Pipes" held together with duct tape. I encourage all persons looking for housing to look at Heatherwood, to remind yourself that you deserve better!

I apologize to the other posters for digressing, but it delights me to no end to see lousy landlords get their just dessert. If the family members of those killed feel that some sense of justice has been served, then good.

But hey-what's up with Jason only getting 10 years? I thought he was sentenced to quite a bit more.

Matt Toplikar 5 years, 7 months ago

Oh the poor, rich management company... let us all shed a tear for their insurance company's $12 million loss to the greedy spiteful families of the fire's victims. If only rental companies could get a fair shake in this town-- they've always been so exploited by college kids and the rest of the lower class. I don't really know what fascism means, but this sure sounds like it.

yellowhouse 5 years, 7 months ago

If you have a roach problem simply spread some boric acid around under the fridg, behind the stove in the cabinets.

You will be roach free within one month even if your neighbors have roaches.

Boric acid is cheap, and it will keep your apt. bug free! It also controls crickets and other house bugs.

LadyJ 5 years, 7 months ago

Homeless population set to increase. 10 yrs is a joke. Hope someone sued Jason in case he ever writes a book or makes a movie deal.

Linda Aikins 5 years, 7 months ago

I am usually OK with postings, but this time I have to say WOW! Do you recall that people lost their lives in this fire? They DIED!!! Young girls, older women and men - burned because of this complex's inability to fork out enough time and money to install alarm systems and keep the matchbox as fire retardant as possible.

And thank goodness it worked. It got Boardwalk's attention. They are going to do something about it before the people who are there now suffer the same fate.

The hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear the word greedy. If it was my friend, family, acquaintance (which one of them was) that died in this horrible manner, I can't think of enough punishment. In this case, money talked - well actually screamed.

imastinker 5 years, 7 months ago

Gootsie - I have yet to hear what they did any different than other construction in town. My house doesn't have sprinklers. Does yours?

Linda Aikins 5 years, 7 months ago

Of course I don't have sprinklers, but I said nothing about them. What difference does that make? My home is a single-family home with a smoke alarm in almost every room.

Treating the wood porches, closing off the drafty staircases which fed the fire; things like that. I have to think there are more things that could have been done. And I would guess they were up to code when they were built. I hope so anyway, but it's been a few years ago, hasn't it?

Raider 5 years, 7 months ago

Gootsie.... who started the fire? Jason Rose did. He's the one responsible for this. Guess what... when someone lights a match and sets a building on fire THEY are the ones responsible. Not the owners of the building.

When the sheister lawyers realized that Rose probably didn't have a nickel to his name they decided to chase the money. This case has nothing to do with justice for the victims. Rose will rot in prison for the rest of his life. That is their justice. This is simply a case of greedy ambulance chasers from out of town suing anyone they think has a buck.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Jason started the fire.

However, if the alarms and fire suppression systems had been adequate, the fire wouldn't have gotten so out of control.

If the fire had been started accidentally, would you all still exempt the property owner from responsibility?

And, it is confusing if it's true that a building can meet city codes and still have systems judged "inadequate". Something's wrong with this picture - if city codes aren't sufficient to provide adequate systems, they should be changed.

LadyJ 5 years, 7 months ago

This is wishful thinking, but I would like to think the families of the victims did it, at least partially, to keep it happening to someone else

mdfraz 5 years, 7 months ago

imastinker (Anonymous) says…

Thinking_out_loud:

It's more like what 12 people who can't get out of Jury duty say it must be.

Let's face it, Douglas county would be a bad place to be sued. Lawyers spend a lot of time figuring out WHERE to sue somebody for that reason.

Might want to reread the article there, bud..........case was not resolved in Douglas Co., nor even in the state of Kansas. Any more Lawrence bashing?

scribe 5 years, 7 months ago

What about the people who, through no fault of their own, were burned and disfigured and now have thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of medical bills to pay. I wonder what your tunes would be, had it been one of your family members or friends injured in the fire. They certainly weren't rich or they wouldn't have been living there. And after paying the lawyers and medical bills and possibly therapy for years to come, won't be rich after the settlement is paid. Walk a mile in their shoes.

justthefacts 5 years, 7 months ago

What % of this $ went to the lawyer(s) for the plaintiffs?

FHarrison 5 years, 7 months ago

Ok first of all it is a Landloard duty to make sure his building is up to code on everything and meets all city requirements. Second, not everyone can "Choose" to live just anywhere, some poeple for whatever reason have to live where ever they have to live. Boardwalk should have to be responsible for helping place those families else where. I think the arsonist should and probibly will have to pay a surtain amount of money to the families, not just Boardwalk. The arsonist was the one who started it! At the same time the fire wouldn't have spread as bad or as fast had the building been up to code and everything in place for such a disaster.

bad_dog 5 years, 7 months ago

"When the sheister lawyers realized that Rose probably didn't have a nickel to his name they decided to chase the money. This case has nothing to do with justice for the victims. Rose will rot in prison for the rest of his life. That is their justice. This is simply a case of greedy ambulance chasers from out of town suing anyone they think has a buck."-Raider

Do you seriously believe the "sheister" (sic) lawyers ever thought Rose was financially capable of paying any damages to the victims or their families? This is a case of an intentional act complicated by the apparent negligence of the apartment complex-both by its design and lack of upgrades. Trust me, the insurer would not have paid twelve million dollars unless they believed they would have paid that much and more were this case tried before a jury. As such, it is very much about justice for the victims and their families. It's just a financial resolution rather than an "eye for an eye".

As for your statement "Rose will rot in prison for the rest of his life" the article indicates he is serving a 10 year sentence. You really need to a) read, and b) comprehend.

As for all the posts about how the price of insurance will be driven up by the settlement-get a grip. This is a commercial line of insurance business-not homeowner's. Even if there were an impact on homeowner's or business insurance, the impact would be negligible if even discernable. One of the primary principles of insurance is the so-called "law of large numbers". The more the risk is spread, the less the impact on any single policy owner should an insured against event occur. The price of this settlement is spread over literally hundreds of thousands of policy owners, so stop worrying about having to dig into your own pockets.

As for the arsonist (Rose) paying anything, he may have been ordered to pay restitution. Even so, at the rates they pay in KDOC, it's doubtful anything substantive will be recovered from him-even after he is released.

Linda Aikins 5 years, 7 months ago

You need to change your name to good_dog.

Jersey_Girl 5 years, 7 months ago

The first apartment I lived in was Boardwalk and I remember being worried about a fire safety then. I lived on the third floor and was concerned about the wooden balconies/walkways and stairs. The bedrooms are at the back of the apartment and I felt sure that I'd be trapped if ever there was a fire in the front of the building. I agree that just because this was arson, it doesn't keep the complex from being liable. It doesn't matter how the fire started. People died. The fact that one person died because she jumped shows that there was no safe escape route.

imastinker 5 years, 7 months ago

Gootsie - there could have been all kinds of things done. Fire sprinklers could have been installed along with all the other things you mentioned. The building could have been made out of concrete with steel doors - much like wescoe hall. But then there might be complaints about air quality causing cancer or whatever that mess was all about.

My point is that many kinds of things can be done, but this was inexpensive housing and those living there knew that it was a wood building and that it may be difficult to escape in a fire and what those risks are. The risks are the same in every building just like it - like my house. It is unreasonable to ask the landlord to do EVERYTHING possible to prevent risk. Those people probably couldn't afford to live there if that were the case. Maybe it wouldn't have burned down if it were built from concrete, but concrete might fall apart in an earthquake, crushing it's occupants.

IMHO, this would be like buying a compact car and getting into an accident which is not your fault and then suing Ford for not selling you a large SUV or putting extra air bags in it or more crumple zones. Sure, those things could have been done, but you bought the car knowing what the risks are. There may be better equipment out there now that is mandated by the government, but air bags weren't required in 1983 when your festiva was built. Is this really Fords fault?

The answer is that it's not anybody's fault. Life is all about managing risk. No matter what you do though you cannot eliminate it. Maybe that SUV would have rolled over last week when you were swerving to miss a dog in the road, and the effect would have been the same. Bad things are always going to happen and it isn't always somebody's fault when bad things do happen. Most of us just do what we can by buckling up, installing smoke alarms, and praying for a little good luck.

Jersey_Girl 5 years, 7 months ago

And it's good to the usual ratio of people who don't actually read the article are out today.

Jersey_Girl 5 years, 7 months ago

amastinker - so low-income people should be prepare to be injured or die because they don't make much money? Nice!

Linda Aikins 5 years, 7 months ago

imastinker, you are so far out in a field, I couldn't shout and have you hear me.

Linda Aikins 5 years, 7 months ago

I will not get into a debate with you, ima. You can have your ideas and I have mine. But I will not be anywhere near you on the "poor people just have to live (or die) with it" theory. That pretty much stinks.

imastinker 5 years, 7 months ago

That was not my point at all.

What are you proposing is the solution? The apartment building closed, and I'm sure lots of other apartment owners in town are watching the case carefully. They can upgrade and pass the cost to tenants, or sell and get out of town, or raze the building and build nicer units that cost more.

I am not advocating building unsafe buildings, rather asking what we do with all the old buildings in town that were built as safe as any other building when they were built. I also have yet to hear what was so unsafe about this particular building, other than the height.

My only point is that every decision has risk. Do we avoid living in valleys because of flooding and avoid living on hills because of tornadoes, and avoid row housing because of fire?

bad_dog 5 years, 7 months ago

"I also have yet to hear what was so unsafe about this particular building, other than the height."

From the article above:

"A major allegation in the lawsuit was that the apartment complex had an inadequate fire suppression system, alarm system and escape routes. The remaining buildings in the complex — about a dozen of them — are of the same era and construction."

I don't believe the height of the building, in itself, was an issue in this case. Height becomes an issue when the ability to escape a burning building requires jumping from the third story.

imastinker 5 years, 7 months ago

Also from the article above:

"The October 2005 blaze killed three people and injured at least 20 people — some of whom had to jump from the third floor of the apartment complex."

"But the letter to tenants said Boardwalk Apartments L.C. was taking the action because it had been informed recently that all of its apartment buildings “do not comply with fire safety standards for newly constructed apartment buildings, and may not comply with the city’s fire safety code.”

Old quotes: "The Boardwalk Apartment complex did not have sprinklers and was not required to because it was built in the late 1960s, before the city's fire codes made any provisions for sprinkler systems." http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/nov...

"Barr said that virtually all of the new, large apartment complexes in Lawrence already installed sprinklers as part of their construction. But he said many smaller triplex and fourplex apartment buildings didn't install them. A new attitude, though, may be emerging following the Boardwalk fire. Ebey said he thought sprinkler systems in apartments could become a marketing tool to help rent an apartment to a prospective tenant. "I think renters will start paying a lot more attention to that," Ebey said. Barr said he knew that some people - the people who oftentimes pay the rent - already were." http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/nov...

"We've determined through interviews that some of the alarms had sounded," Barr said. "But we don't know if they all went off." Barr explained that because the Boardwalk Apartments were built in 1965, they were not subject to regulations that, had the complex been built today, would require sprinklers and a sophisticated alarm system. At the time of the fire, Boardwalk Apartments only had to have smoke alarms. Barr said the apartment complex was in compliance with city code but noted that his department has neither the time nor personnel to "physically go into each individual apartment." Barr said he had no way to know whether each apartment's smoke alarm worked before or during the fire. He warned that smoke alarms do not go off until they detect smoke." http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/nov...

tyderian 5 years, 7 months ago

I don't understand... this guy, Jason Rose, set a fire that killed THREE PEOPLE... and he only got 10 years in jail?!

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