Lawyers turn to Google to find Oakland warehouse fire victims

OAKLAND (KTVU) -- Some lawyers have taken to online search engines in their effort to find victims and their loved ones who were affected by the fatal fire two weeks ago at the Ghost Ship warehouse.

A number of law firms have turned to Google and are using search engine marketing posts to offer their legal services to the survivors of the fatal fire in which 36 people died.

Families of those who died may be considering wrongful death lawsuits in the aftermath of the fire on Dec. 2 that raced through the warehouse in the Oakland's Fruitvale District.

"The issue is whether the people that died at the hands of negligence of somebody else," said Brian Graziani, an experienced wrongful death attorney at Sisneros Graziani, a San Francisco law firm.

Under the law, who has the right to file a lawsuit related to the fatal blaze?

"Children or a spouse," Graziani said. "Now if neither a child nor a spouse is living at the time, the parents or siblings may also bring an action and, additionally, if a surviving person is financially dependent on the decedent, additional claimants could also be step-children of parents."

There could be dozens of wrongful death lawsuits filed as a result of the warehouse fire. But the courts will have to determine the "worth" of each victim who perished in the blaze.

"It really is a case-by-case basis," Graziani said. "The value of a case is based on the emotional loss. So, it really depends on how close the surviving relatives were to the decedent and how long was the life span left to live of the decedent? How much financial support was the decedent providing to the surviving relatives? So, there really are a lot of different factors to take into consideration."

The victims have several parties that can be served with lawsuits, Graziani said.

"The promoter of the party, which was an un-permitted party (or) the master tenant of the property (and) the owner of the property," he said.

Legal experts say unless those served with lawsuits have valuable assets or huge insurance policies, they may not be able to pay settlements or verdicts.

However, in this case the city of Oakland could be a target of lawsuits since municipal inspectors apparently missed or never performed inspections and code enforcements. 

But while the survivors have two years to sue most defendants, claims against the city must be done quickly.

"The clock is ticking and so six months (is the) deadline to make a claim against a governmental entity," said Graziani, who does not have a client in this case.

By KTVU reporter Tom Vacar.


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