February 18, 2016 / 10:40 PM / 3 years ago

Los Angeles sues developer of torched apartment for $20 million

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The city of Los Angeles filed a $20 million lawsuit on Thursday against the real estate developer behind a downtown apartment complex destroyed while under construction in a massive arson fire that engulfed an entire city block in December 2014.

An overview shows the aftermath of the 1.3 million-square-foot Da Vinci residential complex that was destroyed by early Monday morning fire next to the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles, California December 10, 2014. REUTERS/Barbara Davidson

The civil suit alleged that Geoffrey H. Palmer and his company, G.H. Palmer Associates, failed to take fire-safety precautions that would have curbed the spread of flames that ended up burning down the multimillion-dollar Da Vinci Apartments complex.

“We’re fighting to fully compensate the city’s taxpayers for losses we allege could have been avoided had this massive building incorporated key safety measures and been better constructed,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement.

Representatives for G.H. Palmer Associates could not be immediately reached for comment.

Feuer said developers failed to devise adequate fire protection plan, did not properly install fire walls or doors in the structure, lacked sufficient water supplies to fight a fire, and lacked appropriate security measures to stop someone from gaining unauthorized access.

A 56-year-old man was charged last May with setting the Dec. 8, 2014, blaze that gutted the complex and damaged three nearby buildings. Dawud Abdulwali pleaded not guilty to two counts of arson in the case.

A flammable material was used to start the fire, which took about 250 firefighters to extinguish and caused an estimated $30 million in damage to the structure of the Da Vinci complex alone, officials said.

The site that burned, two stories of poured concrete beneath five floors of wood framing, occupied an entire city block near the junction of two major traffic arteries - the Hollywood Freeway and the Harbor Freeway.

No one was injured, but much of the structure, wrapped in scaffolding, collapsed in the flames, producing heat so intense it ignited three floors of a neighboring high-rise building. The radiant heat also blew out windows in two other office buildings.

Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Steve Gorman and Andrew Hay

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