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 the warehouse.

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 involved.

“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 precautions.”

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.

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