Tragic Oakland Warehouse Fire Raises Issues of Liability

A tragic fire at an Oakland warehouse on December 3, 2016 has killed more than 30 people that were attending a concert.  The Oakland Fire Department continues to recover bodies and it is feared that the number of deaths could increase to as many as 40 to 50.

The property where the fire occurred was a warehouse, known as Oakland Ghost Ship, that neighbors claim had been converted to a place where artists lived and worked.  However, the City had not permitted the building for residential use or for use as a concert venue.  The concert, Golden Dorma 100% silk 2016 West Coast Tour, was advertised online, including a concert Facebook page.  A local resident stated that the warehouse is known by locals as the site for rave-style concerts.  Shockingly, it has been reported that sprinklers or fire alarms had not been installed in the building.  A spokesperson for the building owner claims that the owner did not know that people were living at the building or that it was being used for concerts and parties.

Some local residents have described the building as a tinderbox where tragedy was waiting to happen. Former residents of the building reported that they saw artists using butane torches, water being heated with propane, and sparking electrical wires.  The building was divided into a number of different sections that had been decorated with curtains and other fabrics.  The interior and exterior of the building was littered with debris that has been described as kindling.  The interior stairs consisted of wooden pallets that made it difficult to escape the inferno.  Most people died on the second floor where the concert took place.  It is inexcusable that the City of Oakland and the property owner allowed such a deathtrap to exist.

A city official has described the warehouse as an “open secret” that he has been complaining about for years.  A search of city records has confirmed that the yard adjacent to the building had been a dump for all sorts of debris and the building was an eyesore and in disrepair.  City records also reveal recent code violations, including a record stating the building had been “remodeled for residential use.”  The city has yet to explain why it did not take action to prevent this horrible tragedy.

Generally, property owners can be held responsible for an unsafe condition that exists on their property.  A property owner must use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonable safe condition, must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe condition, and must repair or give adequate warning of anything that could reasonably be expected to harm others.  In this case, the property owner had several unsafe conditions that created an obvious risk to the safety of others.  Some of the unsafe conditions that have been discovered include the failure of the property owner to install sprinklers or fire alarms, accumulation of trash and debris on the property, exposed electrical wires, unsafe egress from the building, and others.  In addition, Galine, Frye & Fitting will rigorously investigate and pursue claims against the City of Oakland for having knowledge of the unsafe conditions of the property and failing to take any action.

There are many unanswered questions and further investigation is needed.  Galine, Frye & Fitting is experienced in handling large fire cases throughout California.  The attorneys at Galine, Frye & Fitting will commence their investigation by reviewing the findings of law enforcement officials but will also retain the necessary experts to conduct an independent investigation of what caused the fire and the reasons the fire so quickly engulfed the building before the occupants could escape.  The culpable parties must be held accountable for this tragedy.

Contact the personal injury attorneys at Galine, Frye & Fitting for a free consultation.