OAKLAND – The first pair of wrongful-death lawsuits have been
filed on behalf of the victims of an Oakland-area warehouse fire that
claimed more than 30 lives.
On Dec. 2, a fire broke out in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse on
31st Avenue, killing 36 people. At the time, a local artist
collective used the warehouse as a living and performance space,
neither of which the property was zoned for. The cause of the fire
remains unknown, but attorney Mary Alexander filed two wrongful-death
lawsuits on Dec. 23 on behalf of Michela Gregory and Griffin Madden,
who were among the victims who died in the fire. According to a
report on abc7news.com, the lawsuits name the building's owner, Chor
Ng; and landlord, Derick Ion Almena; event promoters; and neighboring
landlords who, according to the claims, were supplying electricity to
Julius Young, a partner at Boxer and Gerson in Oakland who
specializes in personal injury and impairment, told the Northern
California Record that family members of the deceased have a strong
basis to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Ng and Almena.
“In these kinds of circumstances, it definitely makes sense that
you would file a lawsuit against the property owner and the
landlord,” Young said.
While there are a currently a number of possible explanations for
the fire, Young said it is possible that any number of groups could
be found to to be responsible or share culpability for the deaths
“The answer to who is ultimately responsible will boil down to
what the facts end up showing,” Young said. “But at the end of
the day, it is will be difficult for Ng and Almena to avoid being
found culpable in some way. From what I have seen of the warehouse,
it would be very difficult for both of them to claim that they were
unaware that people were living there without proper safety
Another important question in this and future lawsuits will be
determining who is qualified to file on behalf of the deceased.
According to Young, family members are able to file claims on behalf
of their lost loved ones, but just because an individual was in a
relationship with one of the deceased does not mean they will be able
to file a claim.
“In either case, there is a two-year statutes of limitations in
California to file a wrongful-death claim against a private
individual and six-month limit to file against a government agency,”
he said. “But both groups can expect to see plenty of of lawsuits
in the near future.”
Young said that events such as the warehouse fire are least
partially to blame on Oakland's city government. Because city
officials encourage artists to move into the community but fail to
provide them with reasonably priced housing, he said, it seems only
natural that they will turn to illegal housing sources such as the
warehouse involved in these lawsuits.