Family of Man Killed in Building Fire Has Their Day in Court

The Houston family of a 61 year old man received a bench verdict in their wrongful death lawsuit against the storeowners of an adult bookstore. After a one day bench trial, and careful consideration, the Court, Judge Michael Gomez, entered findings of fact and conclusions of law finding that the premises owners failed in their duty to properly warn and protect their patrons.

On April 23, 2003, defendants John Altaire Coil, Dee and Dee Enterprise, Inc. and I-45 North News & Video, Inc. owned, operated and/or managed the business located at 8213 Gulf Freeway, Houston, Texas. The business was an adult book and video store that provided private viewing rooms and theaters for patrons. On April 23, 2003, decedent Jacinto Espinosa was a business patron. On that day, a fire broke out on the premises eventually destroying approximately one-third of the entire building and causing extensive smoke damage to the remainder of the structure. Jacinto Espinosa died of smoke inhalation as he tried to exit the building.

Business employees failed to warn patrons of the fire and failed to safely escort those patrons out of the building. The building was not equipped with smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, warning signs, lit exit signs, or any other fire protection equipment. Plaintiffs alleged and the Court agreed that these failures were negligent and that such negligence was the proximate cause of the Jacinto Espinosa’s death.

The Defendants’ main defense in this matter was that they complied with code. This case is an example of the fact that merely complying with building codes may not be enough to keep the public safe.