Apartment Fire Lawsuit Holds Landlord to Blame for Negligence

Apartment Fire Lawyer Tariq Miller Reflects on $1.56 Million Settlement

The $1.56 million fire lawsuit settlement holding the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to blame for a high-rise apartment blaze that killed six people is a victory not only for survivors, but also the general public, said wrongful death attorney Tariq Miller.

Miller, of Pritzker Hageman Law Firm, worked on the litigation for more than three years, uncovering vital documentary evidence while working beside Pritzker Hageman Managing Partner Eric Hageman, a fire injury lawyer with national experience. On behalf of their clients, the attorneys brought civil court charges of negligence against three parties: The housing authority, the contractor that installed an ineffective fire alarm system and a Florida-based company hired to ensure the fire alarm project was properly structured and compliant with fire codes and building codes.

Lawyers in the case reached lawsuit settlements with all three defendants, but only the housing authority’s payment was disclosed.  Miller said everyone’s claims in the case were settled. The judge ruled that details of the other settlements will remain confidential.

Attorney Tariq Miller

“While no amount of money will bring back the victims who needlessly perished in the fire, this settlement marks the end of the families’ years-long attempt to hold the wrongdoers accountable for what happened,” attorney Miller told KSTP-TV news team 5 Investigates.

Interviewed by the Star Tribune newspaper, Miller said, “The families impacted by this entirely-preventable tragedy insisted on full accountability, and we think that is what they obtained.’’

Miller said the settlements stand as a testament to the unwavering resolve of the survivors and next of kin to bring truth to light and fight for justice. It’s true that the legal investigation of the case should save lives in the future. At a minimum, the case absolutely raised the bar on safety at Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. The 191-unit high-rise that burned in November 2019 in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood was largely occupied by low- and very low-income seniors, many with disabilities. The tragedy already has prompted the Minnesota Legislature to pass a law requiring sprinkler systems throughout public high-rise buildings.

Said Miller: “It’s a very sad situation for everyone involved, but we know they are pleased with the outcome and that there’s been accountability for what happened.’’

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Devastating Smoke and Fire

Pritzker Hageman represented the families of two apartment residents who died. The law firm also represented a survivor of the fire who lived directly above the 14th-floor apartment where the blaze started. Medical evidence showed that all six people who died suffered smoke inhalation. The accidental fire broke out shortly before 4 a.m. on Nov. 27, 2019, at 630 Cedar Avenue. One of the six people whose life was claimed by the fire suffered for months before dying.

Miller said the legal team for survivors and next of kin started their inquiry by interviewing officials from the public housing authority. Those sessions led to the inclusion of two additional parties as defendants in the case: Egan Company of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, a contractor; and Florida-based NV5, a national consulting and engineering services firm often hired by government agencies.

“Put simply, the negligence of NV5, Egan and MPHA (housing authority) directly and proximately caused the deaths of six innocent people and injuries to countless others,’’ the lawyers wrote in the final, amended lawsuit complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court.

The complaint explains in detail how each defendant allegedly failed to protect the lives of the elderly in the public high-rise apartment building. What follows is a summary of alleged negligence, according to the complaint that’s still available to the public in court records for:

Minneapolis Public Housing Authority

A regular recipient of federal funding, the housing authority built the 26-story apartment building in 1970. The apartment areas did not have sprinklers, even though it became a requirement for high-rise buildings beginning in 1980. ‘’The lack of sprinklers is just one of the many negligent acts that led to the entirely preventable deaths of six innocent people.’’

MPHA also failed to ensure apartment doors were self-closing. The door to apartment 1407, where the fire started was in the open position, the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division reported. The failure to self-close “contributed to the spread of fire throughout the 14th story,’’ the report said. Had the self-closing door to apartment 1407 been operational, as required by code, “the fire would have been contained to the apartment of origin.’’

In another code violation, MPHA did not ensure that elevator shafts and stairwells were pressurized to prevent smoke and toxic gases from spreading throughout the building.

The fire alarm system at 630 Cedar was not code compliant because it did not meet audibility requirements. The housing authority knew the fire alarm system was not code compliant before the fire.

Egan Company

In June 2019, about 12 weeks before the fire, contractor Egan completed installation of a new fire alarm system at the Cedar Avenue high-rise. Following the fire, testing of the system revealed that the alarm system failed to meet the audibility requirements of the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code on multiple floors. This was especially pertinent in a building of older residents susceptible to hearing loss. “Had the residents received a reliable fire cue by way of a clearly audible fire alarm system, they would have had sufficient time to safely evacuate,’’ the complaint said.


NV5’s consulting role for the housing authority included ensuring that replacement fire alarm systems at 10 MPHA-owned properties, including the Cedar Avenue high-rise, were compliant with codes, standards and regulations. There was testimony from at least one MPHA employee who said multiple contractors were concerned about the bidding process because the specifications didn’t call for CO2/smoke detectors to be placed in individual apartment units. By approving a fire alarm system that failed to meet the audibility requirements, NV5 violated the Minnesota Building Code, according to the complaint.

Talk to an Experienced Apartment Fire Attorney

Pritzker Hageman is one of the few law firms in the country with experience representing burn injury and smoke inhalation clients. If you or someone you love was burned in an apartment fire or suffered smoke inhalation, it’s important to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible in order to preserve key evidence, and because laws called statutes of limitations may limit the amount of time you have to file a claim.

If you would like to talk to a burn injury or wrongful death attorney about what to expect from the legal process, please call 1-888-377-8900, text 612-261-0856, or fill out the form below.