West Philly apartment fire lawsuit settled for $4.75M

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The gutted Windermere Court Apartments at 48th and Walnut streets on Jan. 11, 2011, the day after the fire.

Former residents of a West Philadelphia apartment building destroyed by fire have reached a $4.75 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed against the property's owners, their attorney said Wednesday.

The settlement, pending court approval, will go toward more than 100 people who lost their homes when a five-alarm blaze ripped through the Windermere Court Apartments Jan. 10, 2011, according to attorney Thomas More Marrone, of Center City law firm Greenblatt, Pierce, Engle, Funt and Flores.

"I can't tell you the hugs and the crying of the class members and the notes and the calls that I've been getting," Marrone said Wednesday. "They have just been so gratifying."

Filed in May 2011 against owners Sam, David and Aron Ginsberg and their respective management companies, the lawsuit claims the New Jersey brothers were negligent in maintaining the property on 48th Street near Walnut, fueling the fire's spread and amplifying damages caused by the flames.

Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately return requests for comment.

The four-story building lacked properly functioning smoke detection, fire alarm and sprinkler systems, the suit claims.

The suit also alleges management failed to adequately train a Windermere Court maintenance employee, who cut power to the fire alarm system when it did sound.

Those oversights caused a delay in reporting the fire to 911, allowing it to spread from a second-floor apartment to the roof and beyond, according to the lawsuit.

More than 160 firefighters worked for five hours to extinguish the blaze. By the time the smoke cleared, more than 100 people were displaced from the building's 90 units.

In the days following, the Department of Licenses and Inspections deemed the structure unstable, and residents were barred from going back inside to retrieve their personal property.

After repeated demands, they were permitted to salvage what belongings they could fit in a trash bag, but that was several weeks later, after the items had been exposed to soot, water and extreme temperatures, and left vulnerable to looters and vandals, the lawsuit states.

Demolition began a little more than a month after the fire, a definitive cause of which was never determined.

Though it took nearly four years for the case to be brought in front of a jury, the proposed settlement was reached just three days into a civil trial before Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Mary Colins.

Plaintiffs were overjoyed, with some bursting into tears in the courtroom hallway after hearing the news, Marrone said.

"They're just wonderful, wonderful people who were so patient and put their faith in me," he said. "I'm so pleased that they will finally have peace of mind."


Contact Alex Wigglesworth at 215-854-2305 or awigglesworth@philly.com. Follow @phila_lex on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.