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First Lawsuits Filed for Victims of 'Ghost Ship' Warehouse Fire

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

On December 2, 2016, tragedy struck at a warehouse that had been illegally converted into a mixed-use residential and workspace for artists. During a dance party event that was taking place on the second floor of what is being described as a labyrinth-esque warehouse space, a fire broke out on the first floor. Due to the way the interior structure had been built, every person who attended the event was trapped on the second floor as the fire consumed the building, eventually causing the roof to collapse, and killing 36 people.

The aftermath of the fire, apart from the intense grief of those who lost loved ones and friends, is shaping up to be a legal quagmire. The first two wrongful death lawsuits were recently filed, and each names a rather long list of defendants, including the building's owners, as well as the individual who held the lease on the building, and the owners of the neighboring buildings that were supplying power and other resources to the warehouse. Additionally, the individual who was promoting the event was named. Several local government entities are expected to be named in the lawsuit as well, once the administrative requirements of the California Tort Claims Act are satisfied.

Premises Liability Claims

The owner and those in control of a property will generally be liable for the injuries suffered by guests, invitees, and even trespassers, for the dangerous conditions found on the property, or as a result of their negligence.

In the Ghost Ship warehouse, reports indicate that the building was not even close to being compliant with the local or state building codes, lacked adequate electrical infrastructure, lacked the appropriate permitting, and had even had a minor electrical fire there the night before. The electricity for the entire warehouse was being provided by a neighboring building via a hole in the wall and an extension cord.

The parents of the two victims that have filed suit allege not only premises liability claims against the owners and lessors or the property, but are also seeking remedies against the city and local agencies for failing to properly inspect the property, which likely would have led to a shut down. The warehouse's interior had not been inspected in over 30 years and was not permitted for any use other than commercial use (which excludes public events).

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