Watch CBS News

2nd Lawsuit Filed In Edgewater Apartment Complex Fire

EDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A second lawsuit was filed Thursday against the owners of an apartment building that burned to the ground last week in Edgewater, New Jersey.

A mother and daughter who lived in the Avalon at Edgewater sued AvalonBay Communities for damages Thursday, asserting they suffered mental anguish and emotional distress in addition to economic loss.

PHOTOS: Edgewater, N.J. Apartment Complex Fire

Last Wednesday's blaze was started by workers doing plumbing repairs. The five-alarm fire destroyed 240 units, permanently displacing 500 residents and temporarily displacing another 520 residents from surrounding buildings.

Edgewater Police Chief William Skidmore said the maintenance workers tried to douse the fire, but things soon got out of control.

"They tried to suppress it themselves and then they called their supervisor," he said. "It was a very big contributor to it because there was a delay in the response of the fire department."

On Monday, two other former residents sued and are seeking class action status for the lawsuit. The suit filed Thursday doesn't seek the same classification; attorney Michael Epstein, who represents plaintiffs Sarah and Lisette Jacobo, said in an email that he felt a class action was not appropriate "because every victim has independent and different losses.''

A spokesman for AvalonBay Communities said the company had no comment on the lawsuits.

Assemblyman Proposes Moratorium On Multi-Family Housing Construction

Also on Thursday, Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Passaic, Bergen, said he would propose a bill that would impose a moratorium on approvals for multi-family housing developments until the state's building code is revised.

"The Edgewater inferno makes it clear that we need new and improved building standards in New Jersey in order to protect residents and first responders,'' Rumana said. "Until those new standards are in place, a moratorium on new building is urgent. We need to ensure that better construction standards, designed to save lives, are in place before any new multi-family housing is built.''

There have been no allegations of building code violations at the apartment complex, but fire officials and lawmakers have questioned the use of lightweight wood that many say is more flammable than other types of wood.

"Everybody's life is in jeopardy. We cannot let it continue," Rumana told WCBS 880's Sean Adams. "I find these places to be fire traps and that's not acceptable. That's not acceptable construction and I think the time is right for change."

Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson said the fire quickly spread through the floors and walls because of the building's lightweight wood construction.

"If it was made out of concrete and cinder block, we wouldn't have this problem," Jacobson said last week, adding the building complied with construction codes.

In a statement last week, AvalonBay's Chief Construction Officer Michael Feigin said the Avalon at Edgewater community "was built using wood frame construction, a standard, common, and safe construction method for multifamily housing used throughout the United States."

"The community was built in accordance with the fire and safety codes applicable at the time," he said. "The purpose of those codes is not to prevent the building from burning down, but rather to ensure that there is sufficient time and opportunity for all occupants to exit safely in the event of a fire."

This isn't the first time the same apartment complex has been engulfed in flames.

In August of 2000, the complex was under construction when a fast-moving fire tore through it. The flames also destroyed a dozen surrounding homes, displacing up to 70 people.

The 2000 fire was ruled accidental by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.