L.A. files $20-million lawsuit against Da Vinci Apartments developer over huge downtown fire

The Los Angeles city attorney has filed a $20-million lawsuit against the developer of the downtown Da Vinci Apartments project, claiming its negligence was responsible for the damage caused by a massive 2014 fire at the project construction site.

The Dec. 8 fire destroyed the 75,000-square foot, seven-story complex alongside the 110 Freeway.

The blaze forced the closure of the freeway and the intense heat cracked at least 160 windows at the headquarters of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Investigators eventually arrested Dawud Abdulwali, a 56-year-old taxi driver, in connection with the fire. He does not appear to have any connection to the developer or the apartments he allegedly destroyed, officials said. He has pleaded not guilty.

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The lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims the project developer, Geffrey H. Palmer, and his company, GH Palmer Associates, failed to have an appropriate fire protection plan. The suit claims the developer failed to compartmentalize construction, install fire walls or doors on the property or have an appropriate water supply to fight a fire. It also failed to provide security to prevent a person from going on the property and burning it down, the lawsuit claims.

“We’re fighting to fully compensate the city’s taxpayers for the losses we allege could have been avoided had this massive building incorporated key safety measures and been better constructed,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement.

According to the suit, when the project caught fire and flames engulfed the wood framing, it "generated a giant blaze, large plumes of smoke, a rain of ash and soot, and melting heat."

Nearby city properties suffered an estimated $80 million in damage from the fire and the water used to extinguish it, officials claim. The city's insurance policy only covered $61.9 million of the damage, the suit claims.

The city is asking to be reimbursed by the developer for the rest of the money.

GH Palmer Associates was not immediately available for comment.

From its inception, the 526-unit Da Vinci project was controversial.

Its Italianate architecture, experts said, stood in awkward contrast to the surrounding buildings. The company also designed the Orsini on North Figueroa Street and the Visconti on West 3rd Street, both near the intersections of the 110 and 101 freeways.

The Da Vinci project called for a pedestrian bridge to neighboring complexes that, depending on one’s interpretation, insulated its residents from the homeless on the street or provided convenient access to downtown attractions.

After a debate, the bridge was ultimately approved by the L.A. City Council.

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2:25 p.m.: This post was updated with details from the lawsuit about the fire and the city's damages.

12:37 p.m.: This post was updated with background information about the project.

This post was originally published at 12:03 p.m.