Another family of a Charleston firefighter killed in the Sofa Super Store blaze filed a lawsuit accusing the business and 12 other defendants of contributing to his death through gross negligence.
The action, filed Tuesday on behalf of Capt. William "Billy" Hutchinson, is the second lawsuit to arise from the nine firefighter deaths June 18 at the Savannah Highway store. The family of firefighter Melvin Champaign filed a similar suit in October.
Both suits target the owners of the site, the manufacturers of the furniture inside the store, a building contractor, and the companies that built the fire doors that investigators later determined had malfunctioned. Neither the city of Charleston nor its fire department are named in the complaints.
David Michel, the representative of the 48-year-old Hutchinson's estate, filed the suit in Charleston. He is represented by Motley Rice and O'Neill & Phipps. Michel is suing for the benefit of Hutchinson's three children. Attorneys for the family offered no further comment Tuesday.
Attorneys for the companies named in the action either had not seen the lawsuit or could not be reached for comment.
But several of the same defendants in the Champaign case already have filed responses with the court, denying any responsibility for the firefighter's death.
The Hutchinson suit seeks unspecified damages for grief, sorrow, mental shock and suffering.
Named in the suit are:
-- Sofa Super Store Inc.
-- Goldstein Family Limited Partnership.
-- Complete Building Corp.
-- Acme Doors Inc.
-- Cornell Iron Works Inc.
-- Albany Industries Inc.
-- Ashley Furniture Industries Inc.
-- Capris Furniture Industries Inc.
-- De Coro USA Ltd.
-- Ellis Home Furnishings LLC.
-- Klaussner Furniture Industries Inc.
-- Overnight Sofa Corp.
-- Primo Industrial Inc.
Herb Goldstein heads the family partnership that opened and operated the sofa store. The family bought the property in 1995.
Complete Building of Charleston was a contractor responsible for modifications and additions to the building. Acme Doors of Summerville was hired to install, inspect and maintain the fire doors, which were designed and built by Cornell Iron Works of Pennsylvania, according to the suit. The remainder of the defendants include furniture manufacturers accused of making highly flammable and hazardous products.
The Champaign lawsuit initially targeted an additional defendant, RLB Inc. (formerly known as BBG Inc.), past owners of the sofa store site. They were later dropped from the lawsuit after lawyers for the family "re-evaluated" the corporation's liability, attorneys said. The company is not named in the Hutchinson complaint.
The suit alleges that the owners of the building made multiple changes and additions to the site without adhering to national fire and electrical codes. Among other things, the electrical shutoff system was placed in the building, requiring someone to go inside the store during a fire to get at it. They also failed to properly obtain permits for construction work, which included an unauthorized loading dock where employees were allowed to smoke, the suit states.
On the night of June 18, someone is thought to have started the fire on the improperly built dock when smoking materials came in contact with furniture varnish and other flammable materials, the suit states.
The fire got inside the store's massive showroom and malfunctioning fire doors failed to stop its spread, the suit alleges. The flames ignited the highly flammable polyurethane foam, creating a "toxic, ultra-hazardous" environment for Hutchinson and the other firefighters inside, the suit states.
The suit alleges that the store's maze-like layout, with no clearly marked fire lanes and locked exit doors, made it impossible for firefighters to escape before flames consumed the building and the roof collapsed. Hutchinson fully recognized his impending death and suffered in his final moments, the suit alleges.