The attorneys involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of an elderly woman who died at a Columbia County retirement complex fire squared off Thursday over what trial witnesses should be allowed to say.
Barbara Ellington filed the Columbia County Superior Court lawsuit on behalf of her 91-year-old mother, Dorothy Carpenter, who was found dead in her third-floor Marshall Square apartment after the June 2, 2015, fire. The fire started next to Carpenter’s apartment in the billiard room.
The defendants in the case are the owner of the upscale retirement community, Resorts Lifestyle Communities, builder Cameron General Contractors, property manager Chris Byrde, night concierge Zackery Freehof, and the Columbia County Fire Department. The manufacturer of the heating and air unit that is believed to have been the cause of the fire, Goodman Co., settled out of court.
The trial is set to begin Sept. 25.
One thing the defense attorneys do not want to come out on the witness stand is certain firefighters’ opinions that Marshall Square was a “tinderbox” because of the building materials. They have no expertise on building materials, attorney Charles Mayers said.
But plaintiff”s attorney Harry Revell countered that Marshall Square held itself out to be above minimum safety standards when it came to its residents safety.
“All these promises were made and none were fulfilled,” he said.
Mayers and other defense attorneys argued that the plaintiff’s side shouldn’t be allowed to contend that Marshall Square’s policy to instruct residents to stay in their apartment in the case of a fire alarm violated the fire code.
Revell responded that a code inspector told Marshall Square personnel they needed to develop an evacuation plan but that it was never done and that in the year the complex stood, no fire drills were ever conducted.
The plaintiff’s and defense attorneys also seek rulings to restrict each other’s expert witnesses.
Chief Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. told the attorneys he wanted to study their motions and brief before ruling. He said he would get that done as soon as possible.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.