UPDATE: Two City of Davenport officials have been added to a lawsuit that accuses the city and other defendants of “gross negligence,” according to court documents.
Richard Oswald, director of Development & Neighborhood Services, and Corrine Spiegel, city administrator, have been added to a class-action lawsuit filed earlier, according to documents filed Aug. 21 in Scott County Court.
EARLIER: Another class-action lawsuit accuses a landlord, the City of Davenport and a former city inspector for “gross negligence” in the partial collapse of the apartment building at 324 Main St., Davenport, on May 28, court documents show.
Dismantling began Monday at the site of the partial collapse.
Jennifer Smith and Dionte McMath, individually and as owners of 4th Street Nutrition, a partnership; and Brandy Wheelhouse, individually; Michelle Vivians, individually; Phillip Brooks, individually; and Mildred Harrington, individually, have filed suit against Andrew Wold, Davenport Hotel, LLC; Andrew Wold Investments, LLC; the City of Davenport; and inspector Trishna Pradhan, according to Scott County Court documents in the lawsuit filed Friday.
In the suit, the plaintiffs ask for damages caused by negligent actions or inactions, and accuse the defendants of “gross negligence” and “willful and wanton conduct.”
Lawsuit: Residents and business owners lost thousands
The 4th Street Nutrition business was on the ground floor of the 4th Street side of the building at 324 Main St., and paid rent at $1,000 per month, the suit says.
The suit shows both Smith and McMath lost all of their personal property, business records, banking records, pictures, electronics, furniture, kitchen equipment and kitchen items, food, mementos and other miscellaneous personal property, with damages in excess of $10,000 for each of them
Wheelhouse was a residential tenant in Unit 216 in the building, and paid $640 per month rent. She had lived in the building since 2010. She too, lost similar property – including the ashes of her father – with damages in excess of $10,000, according to the suit.
The suit says Vivians lived in Unit 606, for which she paid $1,130 per month. She had lived there since September 2022. She, too, lost all of her personal property, including the ashes of her grandmother, with damages in excess of $10,000.
Mildred Harrington and Phillip Brooks lived in Unit 403. They paid $700 per month rent and had lived there since April 2023. Harrington lost property in excess of $10,000, and so did Brooks, whose property included his grandmother’s ashes and family ancestral documents including photographs, with damages of more than $10,000, the suit says.
Wold is named as owner and landlord of the six-story apartment building, and Trishna Pradhan is named as a defendant as chief building inspector for the City of Davenport, documents show.
“No tenants, commercial or residential, have been allowed back inside the building to collect any personal effects, or even to retrieve pets, leaving all tenants in crisis, with only the clothes on their backs,” the suit says. “The Fire Department was later able to rescue a number of the residents’ pets from inside the building.”
“This collapse also took the lives of three tenants who resided in the building and caused another tenant to lose her leg due to debris falling on her body,” the suit says.
‘Notice to Vacate’ and other warnings
According to records released by the City of Davenport, the Development and Neighborhood Services Department of the city issued a Notice to Vacate the entire building on Feb. 10, 2023, the suit says.
The suit says that on Feb. 2, 2023, Pradhan issued a Notice of Public Hazard to Davenport Hotel LLC declaring that the building posed a public hazard. The official notice and order said that “part of the southwest wall has been gradually falling …. There is visible crumbling of the exterior wall under the support beam.”
The suit shows on that same date, Select Structural Engineering issued a report concerning the cracked and crumbling brick on the west exterior wall.
“On February 3, 2023, MidAmerican Energy inspectors complained to the City and (former) Chief Building Inspector Trishna R. Pradhan about the unsafe and deteriorated condition of the exterior west wall at an on-site inspection,” the suit alleges.
The suit says on Feb. 10, 2023, the city cited the owner with notice that the building was substandard and issued a notice for all tenants to vacate on Feb. 10, 2023. The notice said the building had to be vacated in compliance with the notice by Feb. 27, 2023, at 12:00 a.m.
The city issued the notice after re-inspection on Feb. 9, 2023, finding previous violations had not been corrected, including problems with the western wall of the building and ordering that the building be vacated, according to the suit.
The suit says there is no documentation at this time of any subsequent action on the part of Andrew Wold, any of his companies, or the City of Davenport, to advise the tenants of the notice to vacate, or to comply with the notice, or that sufficient action had been taken to cure the substandard conditions of the building.
In 2020, before Wold bought the building, Davenport Building Inspector Richard Oswald is quoted as saying “I’M NOT AFRAID OF CLOSING THE BUILDING DOWN. GO AHEAD AND PROCEED.” The message, all in capital letters, “was apparently not heeded by the city,” according to the suit.
Select Structural Engineering said in a letter dated May 24, 2023 to the City of Davenport that large patches of brick “appear ready to fall imminently” and laid out repair recommendations to to keep the entire face of the building from falling away when the bottom areas come loose, according to the suit. Engineers warned that the “brick facade is unlikely to be preserved in place, but it can be brought down in a safe and controlled manner.”
According to the suit, on May 26, 2023, two days before the partial collapse, Ryan Shaffer, co-owner of RA Masonry, a contractor who previously had bid on the repair project, warned people working on the building “for fear for their safety, in the days before the collapse,” the suit says. He had previously warned the owner and on the day before the collapse he warned the workers there on Saturday, a day before it collapsed, after he saw that interior layer of bricks – not just the outer bricks- had been falling.
On May 27, 2023, the day before the collapse, a contractor overseeing a clean-up crew at the building site called 911 emergency services with concerns for the integrity of the structure because of visible bulging on the southwest wall, according to the suit.
The suit says on that day, after the 911 call, Emergency Services sent out the fire department to evaluate the integrity of the structure and the fire department’s logs show the fire department left the scene four minutes later with no action being taken by the city regarding the contractor’s warning of the eminent failure of the building structure.
‘A sham corporation’
The creation of the Davenport Hotel LLC was a sham corporation “whose purpose was to obstruct the application and enforcement of the City of Davenport building, fire, and construction codes in place to protect the safety of the public and the residents of the building,” the suit says.
“These corporations are shams created to perpetrate a fraud upon the public, the City of Davenport and all of its tenants by avoiding the legal consequences of failing to comply with the application and enforcement of the City of Davenport building, fire and construction codes in place to protect the safety of the public and the residents of the building,” the suit alleges.
According to the suit, on March 13, 2023, a MidAmerican Energy inspector told the chief building inspector, the fire chief, the building owner and other public officials that the wall was going to fall.
The plaintiffs ask for damages and a jury trial, the suit says. A class-action lawsuit allows one or more people to file a lawsuit on behalf of a larger group, or “class.”