An elderly man who was trapped inside his apartment for five days after a massive fire gutted a senior living complex in D.C. last September has filed a $3 million lawsuit against the property’s management company, saying he suffered permanent physical and mental injuries as a result of his ordeal.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Aug. 20 on behalf of Raymond Holton, who was 74 at the time of the fire.
His suit claims employees of Edgewood Management Corporation, which is based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, falsely told D.C. officials all residents of the Arthur Capper Senior Homes had been accounted for after the fire, neglected and intentionally disabled the residence’s fire alarm system and failed to secure the building from vagrants, who may have started the fire in an attic just underneath the building’s roof.
The fire broke out inside the four-story apartment building around 3 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2018, sending thick clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky over the Navy Yard neighborhood and spurring dramatic rescues by ladder and wheelchair. At the time, D.C. fire officials said fire alarms throughout the building were not sounding properly during the fire.
According to Holton’s lawsuit, high heat from the fire caused his door to swell shut, leaving him “abandoned and alone” inside his apartment.
During the time he was inside his apartment, he had no running water or electricity. The little food he had in his refrigerator spoiled, “causing him to starve for days,” the suit claims, to the point where he even began eating his thyroid medication “to quench his hunger from starvation.”
At some point, he fell, injuring his knees, back and shoulders and he also lost almost all of his teeth, according to his lawsuit.
Holton’s lawyer said was Holton “was in a state of mental and emotional misery” and feared he would die.
Five days after the fire broke out, building engineers pried open Holton’s door “after they heard him screaming for his life” and discovered a disoriented Holton “sitting on his soaked couch, covered in his own feces and urine,” according to the lawsuit.
As a result of his injuries, Holton is unable to walk without help and cannot live independently, the lawsuit claims.
Julie Chase, a media representative for Edgewood Management, told WTOP the company had not been officially served the lawsuit and that it was too early to comment.
The lawsuit, which cites the findings of a report issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, claims that fire alarms in the residence were not working properly on the day of the fire, that Edgewood Management was not properly maintaining the fire alarm system and that employees had intentionally disabled the fire alarms in the past by pressing a “silence” button.
Because the alarms failed to sound, Holton “had no warning of the fire and no opportunity to attempt an early escape or communicate with anyone, before his door swelled shut and the electricity turned off,” the lawsuit claims.
In its report, the ATF couldn’t pinpoint a precise cause of the blaze. But investigators determined the fire was caused by some kind of human activity in the building’s attic, or cockloft, and suggested “squatters” — whom residents reported hearing in the building’s attic and roof area before the fire — may have been to blame.
Holton’s suit claims Edgewood Management had been alerted to the presence of trespassers and squatters in the building numerous times but failed to act. According to the ATF report, one resident, who was directly below the building’s attic, reported hearing footsteps and voices at all hours of the night and smelling marijuana smoke and smoke from other narcotics. Even so, the lawsuit claims employees failed to check the attic space for squatters.
The suit also claims that D.C. officials halted search and rescue efforts after the fire — leaving Holton trapped inside — after company officials falsely reported that all residents were accounted for.
“These actions were so wanton and reckless in nature as to constitute an intentional disregard for the welfare and safety of residents of the residence,” the suit claims. In addition to the $3 million in compensatory damages, the lawsuit is also seeking an unspecified amount in punitive damages.”