The property management and garbage and recycling company for the Heidi Manor Apartments in Northeast Portland, Oregon agreed to pay more than $6.5 million to the families of three tenants who died in an early morning fire and one roommate who survived the 2021 fourth of July inferno. The victims are represented by attorney Scott C. Lucas of Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton.
Early Hours Dumpster Fire Kills Three
The Fourth of July 2021 turned into a burning inferno for four young roommates living in the Heidi Manor apartment building in Northeast Portland, Oregon. Three of the roommates died after a flames erupted in a plastic dumpster in a carport below their apartment. A fourth roommate survived, getting out ahead of the others and barely escaping the growing flames.
A thirty one-year-old man and a twenty six-year-old woman jumped from the upper skywalk to the ground after smoke and neighbors’ yells awoke them at about 3:30 am. Sadly, the man did not survive the 30 foot jump, while his girlfriend succumbed later to terrible burns on 65% of her body.
The flames consumed another male roommate as the walkway he was on buckled, plunging him to the ground. Witnesses said he seemed to be frozen in shock and unable to try to jump to escape. The two men who perished owned a video gaming company together and were lifelong friends.
Portland fire investigators have indicated it was likely that fireworks in the plastic dumpster started the fire that quickly spread to the central stairs and the skywalk exits.
A Disaster Waiting to Happen
The design of the 16-story Heidi Manor apartments required tenants on the top two floors to exit along two wooden skywalks that lead to central stairwells to the ground level. The plaintiffs say there was no other exit route available to the fleeing renters the night of the blaze.
At the time of the fire a flammable plastic dumpster was situated below the apartments in a carport. The garbage and recycling company had placed the bin there six months earlier, after the complex owner’s wife complained that overflowing trash dumpsters at the front of the complex was not a “good look.” The owner also believed people were illegally dumping their waste in the Heidi Manor trash containers kept on the street.
Under Portland’s fire code, dumpsters are not to be stored in buildings or placed within 5 feet of combustible walls, openings or roof eave lines. Investigators of the fire said the plastic trash container placement in the carport violated that fire code.
Carol Seger, wife of the owner Melvyn Seger, claimed she didn’t know where the dumpsters were located, saying in her deposition that she left that to the property management company and the garbage company.
Pattern of Trash Bin Fires & Citations
The 2021 July 4th blaze was not the first trash dumpster fire hazard at Heidi Manor Apartments. In November 2010, there was a fire in a recycling bin in the building’s carport under the deck of a unit caused by a discarded cigarette. That same year, Portland firefighters cited Heidi Manor’s owners for leaving a dumpster” too close to combustible walls, openings or roof eave lines.”
Yet another blaze happened in a trash bin at the complex in April 2016. The flames were extinguished before spreading further. The investigation of that fire unearthed at least three other similar recent fires in the same area at the apartment and a ten-year-old city citation for having a dumpster located too close to combustible walls ten years before that.
Four Defendants Sued for Wrongful Death and Injuries
The families of the two men who died, the young woman who at the time was still alive at a burn center, and the fourth roommate filed a lawsuit in August 2021 against Heidi Manor owner Melvyn Seger, Cosmo Investments Inc., David Nase Property Management/Construction Corp., and Heiberg Garbage & Recycling. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants exhibited a pattern of negligence over the years leading up to the deadly fourth of July fire.
The families of the deceased men sought $15 million in damages for each respective estate. The young female burn victim sought $55 million for pain, disfigurement, loss of activities and enjoyment of life, and reduced life expectancy. The fourth roommate asked for $850,000 in damages for his mental anguish and emotional distress.
Lawsuits and Allegations
The plaintiffs argue that the owners should be accountable because they violated Portland’s fire code when they allowed a flammable dumpster to be placed under their wooden building that lacked fire escapes and a sprinkler system. Their allegations referenced the prior citation for a dumpster located too close to combustible walls.
The families and the fourth roommate also alleged that the garbage and recycling company was culpable for providing the flammable plastic dumpster and keeping it in the carport under the tenants’ apartment. Plaintiffs also maintain that the company was negligent in putting the bin close to the wooden building and stairs, and for not warning the tenants about the fire risk.
The Heidi Manor Apartments owners’ response was to file a lawsuit against the city for negligently failing to conduct timely fire hazard inspections and neglecting to inform the owners or management company about any observed fire hazards.
The apartment owners also named three tenants in their lawsuit who they said negligently used fireworks on the property and placed flammable materials in the carport dumpster. The named tenants said they were not involved and refused to respond under the Fifth Amendment.
Owner, Melvyn Seger Involvement
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that Melvyn Seger may have played a role in the placement of the plastic bin under the apartments. Counsel cited at least two tenants’ depositions where they said observed Mr. Seger push a dumpster and recycling bins into the carport.
Another tenant stated that Seger visited the property twice a week, adding that he had complained to Seger about a dumpster being too close to his front door. Mr. Seger told him it was because there was illegal dumping going on.
After Mr. Seger’s attorneys tried to prevent him from having to do a deposition because he might provide inaccurate responses, a trial court ordered him to do the deposition.
Seger’s lawyers then asked the Oregon Supreme Court to intervene based on a sealed report from a hired neuropsychologist. In February 2022, Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Meagan A. Flynn denied Seger’s petition.
A civil suit remains active against Cosmo Investments and Melvyn Seger, the owners of the property off Northeast Weidler Street.
In the settlement, Heiberg Garbage & Recycling agreed to pay $2.4 million to settle the lawsuit. David Nase Property Management will pay $4 million to settle claims from the estates of the three roommates who died and the roommate who survived. The property manager’s settlement amount included $200,000 to settle a suit filed by two other Heidi Manor tenants who sustained injuries while escaping from the blaze.
The victims attorney, Scott C. Lucas, says the settlement with these two defendants frees them up to now focus on holding the other two defendants responsible for the bulk of the suffered injuries and consequences of the fourth of July fire.