Monday, February 15, 2010

Woman Burned Alive after Power Chair Ignites in Flames

A civil lawsuit has been filed in connection to a fire death last year at a Bastrop apartment for seniors.

On Sept. 13, a fire claimed the life of Merrimac Ellis, 87, a resident of the Bond House Apartment Complex at 720 Brisco St. Firefighters found Ellis trapped in her powered wheelchair, alive but badly burned, and she died en route to the hospital.

Merrimac Ellis' son, James Ellis, is seeking damages from Bond House, the insurance company underwriting the apartment and the respective manufacturers of Ellis' wheelchair, the apartment's sprinkler system and the fire alarm system.

The petition for damages, which represents only the plaintiff's side in a lawsuit, claims the apartment and its management neglected the safety of its residents, and the manufacturers provided faulty products that were dangerous and ultimately lethal.

"In its investigation, the State of Louisiana Fire Marshal observed bloody fingerprints under the sink when the fire consumed her," the petition reads. "These bloody fingerprints are indication of Ms. Ellis' valiant, yet unsuccessful, attempts to free herself from the burning chair to save her life."

The petition goes on to say subsequent investigations indicated the fire started under the seat of the wheelchair, and Invacare Corp., the world's largest maker of battery-operated wheelchairs, had issued recalls in the past for short-circuiting chairs that ignited and burned or killed their occupants.

After the fire started, the sprinkler system never initiated and the fire alarm never sounded. The petition faults the sprinkler company, Delta Fire Protection Systems Inc., for failing to maintain sprinkler heads, and Vantronics Security System of Monroe, Inc., for failing to maintain an audible alarm. It also faults Samella Anderson, the manager for Bond House, and Bond House itself for allowing the "unreasonably dangerous conditions" to go undiscovered and unresolved.

After his office concluded its investigation, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said while investigators found no problems with the sprinkler head in Ellis' room, his office did have concerns about the sprinkler system throughout the building.


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