Five George Washington University students injured three years ago in an early morning fire at a campus dormitory have sued the school for $9 million in damages, saying that the school's negligence contributed to their injuries.
One of the students, Bruce W. Austin of Arlington, who still attends the school part-time, suffered severe burns over most of his body, with permanent scarring on one-third of his body, according to the students' lawyer, Michael Feldman. Austin is asking for $5 million in damages.
Four other students each sued for $1 million in damages as a result of the blaze, which swept through the fifth floor of Thurston Hall, a converted hotel that houses about 880 students.
Feldman said the suit, filed Friday in D.C. Superior Court, is similar to one settled last fall between the university and seven other students for $357,000.
Both suits alleged that the building's security and alarms systems were inadequate, that the building lacked a sprinkler system, that the students were not properly trained in fire safety measures and that some of the materials used to construct the dormitory were highly flammable and contributed to the fire.
University officials declined to comment when the first suit was settled, and yesterday a university spokesman said there would be no comment while the suit is pending in court.
The fire, which broke out shortly before 4 a.m. on April 19, 1979, trapped dozens of students in smoke-filled rooms and forced two students to leap five stories onto a gravel courtyard below. A total of 34 students were injured in the fire, most of them suffering from smoke inhalation. Fire officials have said the blaze started in a burning mattress.
Feldman said he was asking that the suit, filed just before the three-year statute of limitations expired, be considered a class action. If a judge agrees to that request, Feldman said he would then be able to contact about 20 other students injured in the blaze who have not sued to see if they would want to try to recover damages from the school.