Jury: Developer Negligence Contributed to N.J. Fire

February 14, 2005

Six people whose homes were destroyed by a spectacular fire nearly five years ago have been awarded more than $1 million by a Bergen County, New Jersey jury, which found that a developer’s negligence contributed to the massive blaze.

Nine homes were destroyed and several others damaged in the Aug. 30, 2000 fire. The blaze started at Avalon River Mews, a five-story condominium complex under construction along the Hudson River in Edgewater, and quickly engulfed neighboring homes.

The fire also forced the evacuation of dozens of nearby residents, including patients at a nearby nursing home.

The cause of the fire was never determined, although investigators ruled out arson.

The verdict was reached late Thursday night after jurors deliberated for nearly 12 straight hours.

Thirteen plaintiffs sued AvalonBay Communities, a Virginia-based developer that was managing the construction of the $75 million complex at the site of a former Alcoa factory. Five settled for undisclosed sums before the trial, and two others settled shortly after opening statements were made last month.

The jury gave the remaining plaintiffs awards ranging from $113,100 to $337,100 for claims that included fire-related losses not covered by insurance, the loss of the enjoyment of their homes and emotional distress.

Witnesses testified that workers were seen smoking and cooking on the construction site and working after hours. They also said there were no security guards posted on the site, the fences surrounding the complex were shoddy, and electrical equipment that did not comply with federal standards for construction sites was found on the property.

Defense attorney Philip A. Garubo Jr. said he was disappointed that the jury determined the developer had some responsibility for the damages.

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