The Real Deal Los Angeles

Law firm relocated by Da Vinci apartment fire sues Geoff Palmer

The law firm located next to the apartments claims Palmer failed to establish fire safety measures

May 23, 2016 12:00PM

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Construction of the Da Vinci Apartments at 909 West Temple Street

Construction of the Da Vinci Apartments at 909 West Temple Street (credit: Municipal Construction Inspectors Association)

Geoff Palmer may be gearing up for yet another major residential project, but the L.A. developer is also facing yet another legal battle.

A law firm located next door to the Da Vinci Apartments construction site, the Palmer development that burned down in a massive 2014 fire, is now suing Palmer and his two development companies — GH Palmer Associates and Palmer Temple Street Properties — for damages and financial losses.

Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, whose offices were located at 221 North Figueroa Street, claims Palmer failed to properly maintain the apartments and to establish fire safety measures when constructing the 75,000-square-foot wood-framed structure. The developer “allowed the creation of a fire hazard,” as outlined in the complaint. The suit, filed Monday in the Los Angeles Superior Court, did not specify an exact amount in damages.

“Had even a minimum amount of care or concern for the impact of a fire, regardless of cause, been employed, and the foregoing standard safety features been employed, then the fire on the [Da Vinci Apartments] would have been self-contained and not spread to generate sufficient heat that caused the damage it did to adjacent properties,” the law firm’s complaint continued.

Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith is one of the largest law firms in L.A., with over 220 attorneys in its local offices. After the fire, the firm signed a 15-year, $115 million lease for office space at 633 West Fifth Street — the tallest building west of the Mississippi as of 2015.

They are not the first entity to sue Palmer for damages from the massive fire two years ago. In February, the L.A. city attorney filed a $20 million lawsuit against Palmer for negligence, claiming that the developer did not compartmentalize construction or install fire walls and doors. The city also argued that the building did not have an appropriate water supply to fight a fire and lacked security against trespassers, including the suspected arsonist responsible for the fire.

L.A. officials say the nearby city properties suffered about $80 million in damage. Insurance has covered about $61.9 million, so now the city is requesting that Palmer reimburse the rest.

The trial against the alleged arsonist, Dawud Abdulwali, began earlier this month. According to witness testimonies, Abdulwali’s intent may have been rooted in frustration over police brutality and systemic racism in America.

Construction on the 526-unit complex picked up again last August. [Bloomberg Law]Cathaleen Chen