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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Firemen Seek Damages After Fatal Blaze

(CN) CHARLESTON, S.C. - Four Charleston firefighters sued the Sofa Super Store and several furniture manufacturers, saying they've suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and other ailments since the June 2007 blaze that killed nine of their fellow firefighters.

The multiple lawsuits were filed in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of firefighters Matthew Roberts, Gary Taylor, Eric Croft, and Edward Jones III. They seek compensatory and punitive damages.

All say they've suffered mental anguish, terror, suffering and injuries since the night of the blaze.

The firefighters blame Sofa Super Store and its owner for illegal modifications that allowed the fire to spread rapidly through the West Ashley store, and also complain that the store had highly flammable roofing and ceilings.

The firefighters say store and the manufacturers used "unreasonably dangerous and highly flammable" materials in their products, which the store displayed without properly maintained sprinklers in the 42,000 square-foot building.

At no time during the design, planning and construction of any of the modifications to the original building did anyone think to move the facility's electrical disconnection system outside of the building, forcing firefighters to go inside to shut the power off, according to the complaint.

Had these simple steps been taken, "the fire would have been quickly extinguished with little damage, with the loss of life of the [plaintiffs'] friends and colleagues and without the injuries," the firefighters say.

Instead, a "flash-over" occurred while firefighter were still inside, leading to the collapse of the steel-trussed roof.

Matthews, an engineer with Fire Station 17 on Johns Island, and his fellow plaintiffs were close to the building when the roof collapsed. They all say they suffered injuries, fright, shock, anxiety and mental distress when it occurred. Since then, they've suffered debilitating anxiety, general and constant feelings of fright, claustrophobia, angst, apprehension, and a constant sense of doom and foreboding, "collectively referred to as a 'nervous breakdown,'" the complaint states.

Taylor, a captain on Charleston's Engine 19 on the night of the blaze, said that being required to assist "in the search and retrieval of the horribly charred bodies of his dead comrades," he's also suffered from sleep deprivation, weight gain, high blood pressure, indigestion and heartburn and has developed "borderline diabetes."

These conditions have also caused considerable harm to his relationship with his wife, Taylor said.

Richard Rosen, attorney for Sofa Super Store owner Herbert Goldstein, issued a statement Thursday in response to the lawsuits.

"Firemen have very stressful jobs and there is no amount of money that fully can compensate them for the risks they take to protect our lives every day. We are all forever grateful for their service," Rosen wrote. "But there is no question this city does not pay them enough nor do the job to properly equip and train them for the hardships they face. It is unfortunate that some have come to expect these problems should be compensated for by the victims of fires which have destroyed their businesses and livelihoods but of course, they do not believe they can sue the City of Charleston or the mayor who ran their department into the ground."

The firefighters are represented by Mark Mason of Mount Pleasant, S.C..

In addition to the Sofa Super Store, the defendants are the Goldstein Family Limited Partnership, Feltmann & Associates, Miller Concrete, Conklin Co., Dupont Performance Elastomers, Albany Industries, Motion-Eaze Recliners, Overnight Sofa Corp., Primo International, the Pembrook Chair Corp., and Robinson & Robinson Furniture aka Sofa Trend aka Leathertrend.

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