Friday, July 18, 2008

Stairway Collapse at Houston Apartment Building Kills Two Children

A tragedy unfolded at the Westwood Fountains apartments here in Houston on Wednesday evening that has left a lot of people looking for answers and searching for the right people to blame. A stairwell collapsed on a group of boys playing hide-and-seek, killing a ten-year-old and a four-year-old. A third boy, age nine, was seriously injured by the falling rubble. Where should residents turn for an acceptance of responsibility? Unfortunately, there are several parties at fault in this situation.

The stairway on which the boys were playing was meant for maintenance personnel only and the door allowing access was supposed to be locked at all times. The building supervisor, Avi Thandani, insisted that the door was secure and that perhaps the boys squeezed through an iron railing. However, residents claim that the door was open regularly without adult monitoring. So, an open door is one way in which the safety of the children was compromised.

Next, there is the issue of government enforcement. The city of Houston does not require regular inspections of multi-family residential buildings. Westwood Fountains was last checked in 1996 and was determined to be a good shape. Of course, a lot can happen in twelve years. Should frequent inspections be mandated for such buildings in Houston, as they already are in places like Dallas? Houston Mayor Bill White thinks so, and recently proposed changes that result in inspections every three years, more often for older, rundown buildings.

Finally, there is the issue of differences in care based on socioeconomic factors. Westwood Fountains is a low-income housing unit with a largely minority population. John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service, believes that if the low-income tenants lived in neighborhoods with more affluent renters, problems would be more likely to prompt complaints and attract the city's attention.

No matter where people choose to lay the blame, the end result is the possible wrongful death of two children. If you have been the victim of someone’s negligence or a loved one has been a victim of wrongful death, please contact us at the Austin, Houston or San Antonio offices of Bertolino LLP. We have attorneys who will help you find justice.

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