A second group of lawsuits has been filed by residents of a Silver Spring apartment complex that exploded into flames in August, litigation that again asserts that blame rests with the company that managed the complex and the utility that supplied it with natural gas.
Kay Apartment Communities and Washington Gas had been warned “on several occasions” about the smell of gas in apartments in the summer months before the tragedy, according to the lawsuits filed Thursday.
“Defendants deliberately disregarded the danger to the property’s residents, and undertook no steps to repair the condition,” say the new lawsuits filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
On the night of Aug. 10, natural gas built up in a basement utility room at the Flower Branch Apartments, leading to a huge explosion and a lengthy fire. Seven people died, and many more were injured as they jumped from balconies or made their way down burning, crumbling staircases.
Investigators have not said how the gas leaked or whether it was a rapid buildup from equipment overseen by the utility or by the management company. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the disaster, a process expected to last into next year.
The 14 new lawsuits were filed on behalf of people who lived at 8701 and 8703 Arliss St. They escaped their apartments, but many were injured and lost all of their possessions, including clothing, furniture, important documents and cash, according to the lawsuits.
“It was almost unimaginable horror,” said one of the residents’ attorneys, Patrick M. Regan. “These folks were all sleeping. They were literally blown out of their beds, sometimes across their rooms.”
He said virtually all of his clients are immigrants, with many working two or three jobs and sending money home to relatives. There were often two families, and other relatives, living in the apartment units.
Regan said he does not expect any of the litigation to move quickly through the courts because it is difficult for companies to turn over documents in response to the lawsuits before the NTSB finishes the federal investigation.
Bernie Tylor, a spokesman for Washington Gas, declined to comment on the new lawsuits, saying the utility is constrained by the investigation. Washington Gas “continues to work closely with the NTSB to help determine the cause of this tragic event,” Tylor said.
A spokeswoman for Kay said the company could not comment on the recent lawsuits because it had not yet been served with formal notification. She said Kay remained “deeply saddened” by the effects of the natural gas explosion and is committed to working with government agencies as quickly as possible to finish the investigation.
In an interview in August, Clark Melillo, president of Kay Apartment Communities, said company records for Flower Branch Apartments show the company received two complaints from residents about gas smells at 8701 and 8703 Arliss St. in 2016, months before the fire. In both cases — in January and May — by the time a maintenance worker checked, the smell was not noticeable, and no leak could be found, Melillo said.
On Nov. 2, similar litigation was filed in D.C. Superior Court. According to attorneys from the firm Bailey & Glasser, the lawsuits should be litigated there because Washington Gas is headquartered in the District and Kay, although it is a Maryland company, conducts business in Washington.
In an interview Thursday, Regan said he filed suit in Montgomery County because that is where the explosion and related events occurred.