OAKLAND, Calif. - Just weeks after the deadly Ghost Ship fire, the parents of a 20-year-old San Francisco State student who died in the arms of her boyfriend filed the first civil lawsuit against the building owner, chief tenant and others.
Nearly a year later, the families of 31 of the 36 victims have filed suits and there could be more to come.
"It is just reprehensible" and "gross negligence in the highest degree to have this happen," said attorney Mary Alexander, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents of victim Michela Gregory and is the lead attorney in the civil cases. %INLINE%
The suits are consolidated under a “master complaint” that was filed in Alameda County Superior Court and lists the common set of claims and allegations against several defendants.
The defendants include 100% Silk, the group that was performing at the Ghost Ship, Pacific Gas and Electric, Derick Ion Almena, the building manager, Max Harris, the Ghost Ship artistic director, as well as Chor Nar Siu Ng, the owner of the warehouse.
The suit was later amended to include the city of Oakland, Alameda County and the state of California.
Specific to PG&E, Alexander alleges the company failed to properly monitor and inspect and repair the electrical equipment, and did not comply with safety standards, which led to the Dec. 2 fire.
“PG&E did not follow their own rules,’’ she said. “They exhibited a willful and blatant disregard for the safety of the people who came into the building.”
PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said in a statement that there is “no evidence to date” that would lead the company is to blame, and that a review of records over the last 10 plus years does not show electrical trouble at the East Oakland location.
“We’re fully cooperating with authorities as they investigate this tragic event,’’ the statement said.
Alexander said recently that a judge denied a motion by PG&E to be dropped from the case. The judge denied a similar motion by Ng warehouse owner. Her attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
The allegations against the city of Oakland claim the fire, police and building departments “failed to meet their mandatory duties to protect the public once they became aware that there was a dangerous condition or unlawful use of the facility,’’ according Christ Dolan, another plaintiff’s attorney representing other families.
In fact, Dolan, contends there are documents and evidence that show officials knew that there were dangerous conditions blocking the sidewalk and obstructing ingress and egress long before the deadly fire.
The 179-page complaint contends city planning inspectors logged complaints over illegal housing and blight, firefighters attended a party in their honor two years before the fire and that police confronted the tenants over an illegal party and arson fire.
Oakland city attorney spokesman Alex Katz said his office is not commenting on ongoing litigation.
The claims against the County of Alameda stem primarily from the county knowing of the substandard and dangerous conditions where people were unlawfully living, and hosting concerts and event, should have advised the Oakland authorities of the conditions, the suit alleges.
The county’s attorney, Donna Ziegler did not return an email seeking comment.
The claims against the state are based on the law that the state fire marshal has the authority, and duty, to enforce the fire code.
This tragedy involves not only the civil justice system, but also the criminal justice system.
Last month, Almena and Harris, each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for deaths, pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges they are facing. A preliminary hearing is slated early December.
Tony Serra, who represents Almena, and Curtis Briggs, who represents Harris, say they cannot adequately defend their clients because the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has not specified the charges.
"They don't tell us what is illegal. My client wasn't even there. They haven't even decided what the cause of the fire was,’’ said Serra. Both remain jailed.