INDIANAPOLIS — Representatives of a family who were impacted by a January fatal apartment fire are suing the apartment complex, as well as the property owners, operators and management company, for negligence.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Marion County by Daniel Dilley, a personal representative of Raymond Diggs, a 31-year-old man who died in the fire, and Jaiwana Rembert, the mother of the children who were impacted by the fire, two of whom who also died.
The lawsuit claimed that Briergate Apartments, as well as Fonseca Properties and Briergate Partners, failed to install the correct smoke detectors within the apartment, which violates state and county code. The lawsuit also claims that the complex did not have enough smoke detectors, which allowed January’s fire to go undetected.
The lawsuit was also filed against Beztak Management Company, Beztak Properties Co. and Tim J. Essex, the service manager for Beztak Properties. Beztak provided rental property management and maintenance services to Briergate Apartments and Essex, as the service manager, provided maintenance for the complex, including “the installation, servicing and maintenance of smoke detectors.”
According to previous reports, Diggs, as well as two of his daughters, 15-month-old Leilani Rembert and 3-year-old Reina Rembert, died after the Jan. 9 fire at the Briergate Apartments complex on the east side of Indianapolis. Two others, identified in the lawsuit as a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation but were later released.
The lawsuit stated the Indianapolis Fire Department responded to the reported fire around 10:20 p.m. on Jan. 9. When they were on scene, they found a couch that was burning in the living room and a small fire on the floor in front of the couch.
“The fire had largely burned itself out when IFD arrived,” the lawsuit said. “The fire was limited to the front room of the apartment, with extremely heavy smoke damage throughout the unit. The first arriving IFD crew members reported they did not hear a smoke alarm alerting within the apartment.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim the apartment had two smoke detectors installed in the unit. Both detectors reportedly violated a Marion County ordinance that residential smoke detectors should be tamper resistant, consisting of non-removable batteries that can power the detector for a minimum of 10 years. The lawsuit also claimed the apartment did not have both “ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors.”
The lawsuit claimed one of the detectors in the apartment was disabled because it “frequently and regularly emitted” false alerts. The plaintiffs claim this was because the placement of the alarm was too close to the source of the false alerts, contrary to the instructions and warnings of the manufacturer.
The other smoke alarm in the unit, which was reportedly in working order prior to the fire, also failed to start because of its location, the lawsuit claims. The plaintiffs said the complex did not install a smoke detector in the living room, where the fire ultimately began.
“Defendants failed to equip the Diggs’ apartment with adequate smoke detectors that provide the best protection to smoldering, smoky fires, which present the most frequent fire occurrences and risks and result in the most fire-related fatalities and injuries,” the lawsuit read. “Defendants did not inform the plaintiffs that the smoke detectors installed in the apartment may not timely alert or protect them from smoldering smoke.”
In response to the smoke, the lawsuit claims that an occupant of the apartment attempted to escape the fire through the bedroom window of the apartment. However, the window was “either jammed or inoperable and would not open.” Occupants also attempted to break the window but “were unable to create a large enough opening suitable to exit.”
Other charges in the lawsuit include the wrongful death of the individuals who died in the January fire, as well as survivor claims, claims of personal injuries, emotional distress and punitive damages.
“As owners and managers of Briergate Apartments, defendants were or should have been aware of the hazardous, unsafe condition of the apartment and the failure to legally comply with state and local laws,” the lawsuit read. “…The failure to maintain the property in compliance with state and local laws and to disregard manufacturer instructions amounts to willful and wanton misconduct… Defendants’ failure to comply with state and local laws was not a mistake of fact, an honest error of judgment, overzealousness, ordinary negligence or other human failing.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, are asking for costs, prejudgment interest, attorney fees, trial by jury and for all further relief.
According to court documents, there have been no responses filed by the defendants to the claims brought forward by the plaintiffs in this case.
In a statement from Beztak Properties, officials said:
“While the deaths of the individuals is tragic and Oakland Management offers its condolences to the family, Oakland Management does not have any liability related to the incident.”
FOX59/CBS4 has reached out to Briergate Apartments for comment on this story. This story will be updated if the complex returns the request for comment.