Four Charleston firefighters have sued the Sofa Super Store, its owners and several furniture manufacturers, saying they’ve suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and other ailments since nine of their fellow firefighters died in the blaze on June 18, 2007.
The four lawsuits were filed in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of firefighters Matthew Roberts, Gary Taylor, Eric Croft, and Edward Jones III. They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
In two of the cases, the firefighters’ wives are named as co-plaintiffs, with all contending they’ve suffered mental anguish, terror, suffering, and/or injuries since the night of the blaze.
In addition to the Sofa Super Store, the defendants in the case are the Goldstein Family Limited Partnership, Feltmann & Associates Inc., Miller Concrete, Conklin Company, Dupont Performance Elastomers, Albany Industries, Motion-Eaze Recliners, Overnight Sofa Corp., Primo International, the Pembrook Chair Corp., and Robinson & Robinson Furniture, alternatively known as Sofa Trend or Leathertrend.
The complaint faults Sofa Super Store and its owner for illegal additions to the building which allowed the fire to spread rapidly through the West Ashley store, as well as the use and installation of highly flammable roofing and ceiling components.
The document goes on to fault the store and the manufacturers for the use of “unreasonably dangerous and highly flammable” materials in their products, and the store for displaying the items for sale without properly maintained sprinklers.
The complaint also claims that the facility’s electrical disconnect system should have been outside of the building to prevent firefighters from having to go inside to shut the power off.
The plaintiffs allege that, had these steps been taken, “the fire would have been quickly extinguished with little damage, without the loss of life of the [plaintiffs] friends and colleagues, and without the injuries.”
Instead, a “flashover” of the fire occurred while numerous firefighters were still inside, leading to the collapse of the steel-trussed roof. A flashover is when combustible materials ignite in an enclosed area within seconds of one another.
The four firefighters detail the problems they have faced since the fire in the court filings.
Matthews, an engineer with Fire Station 17 on Johns Island, and his fellow plaintiffs were in close proximity to the building when the roof collapsed and suffered injuries, extreme fright, shock, anxiety, and mental distress when it occurred. Since then, they’ve all suffered debilitating anxiety, general and constant feelings of fright, claustrophobia, angst, apprehension, and a constant sense of doom and foreboding, “collectively referred to as a ‘nervous breakdown,'” the complaint reads.
Taylor, a captain on Charleston’s Engine 19 on the night of the blaze, said as a result of being required to assist “in the search and retrieval of the horribly charred bodies of his dead comrades,” he’s also suffered from sleep deprivation, weight gain, nearly constant high blood pressure, indigestion and heartburn, and “borderline diabetes.”
He claims these conditions have also caused considerable harm to his relationship with his wife.
Firefighter Edwin Jones, who suffered smoke inhalation during the blaze, said he was similarly affected by helping to carry six of the nine bodies out of the “rubble of the inferno that took their lives.”
Firefighter Croft said he’s still suffering from conditions stemming from the extreme dehydration and heat-related illness he was treated for the night of the fire, conditions he said were exacerbated by the “rolling black smoke which flooded out of the burning building.”
The firefighters are represented by Mark Mason of Mt. Pleasant.