Lawsuit filed over the death of Charleston firefighter Melvin Champaign

Motley Rice LLC and Gergel, Nickles & Solomon, P.A., have filed a wrongful death and survival action that alleges that 13 defendants' negligent and grossly negligent acts and omissions contributed to the death of Charleston City firefighter Melvin Champaign during the June 18, 2007, Sofa Super Store fire.

According to the complaint filed in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of South Carolina located in Charleston, the several of the defendants are responsible under numerous allegations for recklessness, negligence and grossly negligent conduct. Additionally, there is a claim for products liability as to the failures of the fire doors. The suit seeks damages for bodily injury, fright, fear and emotional distress, lost wages and wrongful death.

The named defendants include Sofa Super Store Inc., Goldstein Family Limited Partnership, RLB Inc., (formerly known as BBG Inc.), Complete Building Corporation, Acme Doors Inc., Cornell Iron Works Inc., Albany Industries Inc., Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., Capris Furniture Industries Inc., De Coro USA Ltd., Ellis Home Furnishings LLC, Klaussner Furniture Industries Inc., and Overnight Sofa Corporation.

This action seeks to uncover the truth about the condition and content of the building that these public servants were sent into while identifying and holding accountable the individuals and corporations whose willful acts and or omissions contributed to the personal injuries and untimely, needless death of firefighter Melvin Champaign and others," said Motley Rice attorney Kevin Dean.

The complaint states that prior to the June 18, 2007 fire, multiple additions and modifications had been constructed at the Sofa Super Store and other construction and maintenance work was also performed. It is alleged that upon information and belief, on a number of occasions the Sofa Super Store, its premise owners, lessors, as well as contractors and/or employees failed to obtain appropriate and timely regulatory permission for the planned design, installation and construction of modifications to the existing structure at the Sofa Super Store.

Additionally, the complaint alleges numerous national fire and electrical building codes were not followed or adhered to. At no time during construction of any of the additions and/or modifications to the Sofa Super Store, the complaint alleges, did defendants use all appropriate and economically practical fire safety suppression, detection warning and emergency escape safety measures to prevent this tragedy. It is believed that defendant Complete Building subcontracted with defendant Acme to obtain, recommend, inspect, install and maintain certain coil steel fire doors installed at the Sofa Super Store. Additionally it is alleged that Cornell manufactured, designed and provided the warnings and instructions for their installation. It is also believed that the overhead fire doors failed to operate which contributed to the substantial fire and loss of life on June 18, 2007.

"The evidence that our extensive investigation and research has produced to date has been shocking and has resulted in the conclusion that there is more to this than originally suspected and currently being made public. We are now ready to get this legal investigation into the Courts where we have greater power to seek the truth. We will continue to investigate and consider additional defendants and claims as more evidence is uncovered," said attorney Carl Solomon.

This action is filed by Carl Champaign, Sr., the cousin and duly appointed Personal Representative of the Estate of Melvin Champaign. As Personal Representative he brings this case for the benefit of Melvin Champaign's three surviving minor children and other beneficiaries of the estate.

On June 18, 2007, Melvin Champaign tragically died, along with eight other City of Charleston professional firefighters, during an uncontrollable blaze at the Sofa Super Store at 1807 Savannah Highway in Charleston, South Carolina. Champaign was 46 years old and had served the City of Charleston for two years. The fire at the Sofa Super Store was the worst single incident to claim firefighters' lives since the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed 340 firefighters, two paramedics and a chaplain, according to the National Fire Protection Association. It was the deadliest fire in South Carolina since a 1979 blaze killed 11 people in the Lancaster County jail.

"Upholstered furniture is one of the most flammable products produced today. The facts about the flammability of these products have been known for years, certainly by the owners of a furniture store and their suppliers," stated Motley Rice attorney Joe Rice. "For about the cost of a pizza, the industry could incorporate technologies that would help prevent fires from igniting upholstered furniture. The mattress industry finally woke up, it's now time for the rest of the furniture industry to become accountable for the products that they design, produce, manufacture, distribute, stock and sell."