Flower Branch residents file suit after apartment fire claims seven lives
WASHINGTON – With chants of “justice” and “yes we can,” Flower Branch Apartments tenants announced Wednesday they filed two lawsuits against Washington Gas and Kay Management after a fire killed seven people and displaced about 100 others.
The Silver Spring tenants spoke outside the office of WGL Energy, which owns Washington Gas. The law firms Bailey and Glasser, LLC and Gupta Wessler, PLLC are representing the tenants.
“Seven people died but no one is saying who is responsible for this. Neither the state, the county nor the federal government has stepped forward to the victims to give them the answers they are entitled to,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA an immigrant advocacy organization.
Torres said many of the tenants affected by the fire at Flower Branch are members of CASA and CASA is organizing and paying the legal fees for the lawsuit on their behalf.
John Barrett, one of the lawyers from Bailey and Glasser, said one lawsuit is for wrongful death and injury and the other is class-action by tenants who had their property and documents damaged in the fire.
Barrett said attorneys filed the lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
According to Daniel Board, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the fire was “gas-fed.”
However, he said he did not know what ignited the fire.
Barrett said there are five or six main plaintiffs for the class-action lawsuit with 75 households that are “class members” and 30 plaintiffs for the wrongful death and injury lawsuit.
“We have been waiting long enough and the victims are entitled to justice. We bring this lawsuit to force the responsible parties to finally give us a straight answer on this tragedy,” Torres said.
“We will believe they deserve compensation, a just compensation, but you know what, it is not about money, it’s not just about money, this action is about justice. We truly believe that it is very important we bring justice to these families.
Investigators from the National Traffic Safety Board are working on a report that will determine the probable cause of the fire.
A final report on the fire from the NTSB is not expected for another 10 months.
Barrett said he tried to get information from government agencies so he could perform their own independent investigation into the cause of the fire, but said he received little help from government agencies.
Barrett said by filing the lawsuit, his clients will be able to access government documents and documents from Kay Management and Washington Gas about the cause of the fire.
“Victims and the families are tired of waiting and we’ve have been as patient as good conscience permits,” Barrett said. “The lawsuits we have filed today give us the tools to get answers.”
Tenants gathered around a podium in a semi-circle Wednesday, chanting in English and Spanish that they wanted justice.
Mireidy Reyes, a Flower Branch tenant and member of the class-action lawsuit, said the litigation was about dignity and respect.
“I’m very happy because it’s another step we’re taking,” she said.