Lawyers allege apartments were a “tinderbox” in new wrongful death suit

A wrongful death lawsuit names the owners of the Summerville Station Apartments as well as its property management company after a mother and son were killed.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 6:45 PM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2023 at 3:22 PM EDT

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - In a new wrongful death lawsuit filed in Dorchester County, lawyers allege that the Summerville Station Apartments were a “veritable tinderbox” before a deadly fire broke out last September.

Freni Hazare and her teenage son Dhruve Chokshi died in their own apartment during the blaze.

911 recordings revealed Chokshi could not open his window to escape, as previously reported.

Court documents state that it was “standard practice” for maintenance to not only paint over windows at the complex but even “to drill windows shut using screws, brackets or otherwise, and failing to remediate such dangerous conditions.”

The complaint notes that individuals in the same building as the victims could not exit from one window due to it being “screwed shut” but were able to kick out another window to escape.

Representatives for the family of the victims say they now have to deal with the “tragic” way Hazare and Chokshi died every single day.

“We allege that these deaths clearly could have been prevented but for the wrongful death actions, the extreme negligence, the fact that this apartment was essentially a death trap that they couldn’t escape from because the window wouldn’t open, makes this case all the more difficult for the family to digest and understand,” attorney Chris Gramiccioni of Kingston Coventry LLC said.

Lawyers accuse the owners and property management of gross negligence and willfully violating the South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

Beach Real Estate Funds, an associate of The Beach Company, acquired the apartments in 2020.

The suit names 15 defendants including the company that bought them and several other entities associated with the Beach Company and Lincoln Property Company, the property management company.

The latter is identified in the complaint as the second largest apartment property manager in the United States.

Court documents state that the latter there was only one maintenance employee responsible for all 212 apartments.

They also allege that gaps in the storage units would facilitate fire to spread through to the attic and could have been remedied with the purchase an installation of five-dollar barrier material.

Though Summerville Fire & Rescue has never identified an origin, Stevens says their experts believe the fire started in the storage unit of the apartment beneath Hazare and Chokshi.

The lawsuit also notes that the complex lacked fire hydrants and properly functioning smoke detectors among other tenant complaints about shoddy maintenance work.

Lawyers call the fire an “accident waiting to happen” despite the owner and property manager’s experience and collective knowledge.

“A lot of times with large companies, they will diversify in order to take losses or maybe not take such big gains or take advantages on taxes and we believe that that’s what happened here,” attorney Jason Stevens said.

“They essentially put no effort, time, money or resources into this place,” Gramiccioni added. “If you are a landlord and you run a residence where people decide to live their lives and have their families there, you owe them a duty of care and safety.”

The plaintiffs are also represented by Boston-based Lichten & Liss-Riordan P.C.

The family’s representatives say their clients want to eventually open a foundation in Chokshi’s name to address what they call “antiquated” fire codes in South Carolina.

“They want their loved ones back. They want the care and comfort of the loved ones who have left this earth and that can’t happen here,” Gramiccioni said. “They don’t want anybody to live through this like they’ve had to live through this, the extreme pain and suffering that they continue to experience.”

The Beach Company was not able to provide a comment on the pending litigation.