highland hills apartments

First Lawsuit Filed in Apartment Explosion as Residents Continue Recovery Effort

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The first lawsuit has been filed in last week’s destructive natural gas explosion at the Highland Hills apartment complex in southern Dallas.

The blast injured eight people, including three firefighters who remain hospitalized and displaced approximately 250 people.

An injured employee of the apartment complex has filed a personal injury lawsuit against, Atmos Energy Corporation.

Eriq Davis is accusing the natural gas provider for the complex of negligence, even though investigators have yet to determine an exact cause of the explosion.

Residents displaced by the blast continue their recovery efforts.

Abdul Karriem lived in the building that exploded.

Although his unit was spared severe damage, crews demolished the entire 10-unit building following the blast.

Karriem has returned several times to the pile of rubble left behind, wondering if any of his belongings were salvageable.  

“When you lose everything you own, to be able to come back and retrieve some of it, it is a healing process and it’s a victory,” he said.

The construction contractor-by trade did just that on Tuesday morning, using his personal skid-steer and a crew.

“We went over there this morning with my bobcat and I moved debris and tunneled my way,” he said. “I saw some living room furniture and said: oh ok, then my bedroom is here. And sure enough, I was able to find my dresser.”

Amazingly, the dresser survived the blast and ensuing demolition with several belongings inside.

“My passport was what I went in there for,” said Karriem. “I got my passport. I can’t live without that!”

Dallas fire crews and investigators are no longer a constant presence at the site. The site has been turned over to Atmos energy investigators as well as insurance adjusters.

Investigators with the natural gas providers were seen digging holes around the property.

Fire investigators have previously paid especially close attention to a stove pulled from the debris.

Davis’ attorneys also provided NBC 5 with new details about the moments before the explosion.

“Mr. Davis along with some other employees were heading to the unit for the area in question,” said attorney Eric Allen at Zehl & Associates.

Allen says the employees and maintenance workers were sent to inspect a building for any possible damage related to a shooting there the previous night.

“As soon as they smelled the gas, they called 911,” said Allen.

As Dallas firefighters joined the employees to investigate the possible gas leak, the building blew up.

“Mr. Davis was in the immediate proximity of that blast along with the other co-workers. He sustained burn injuries, abdominal injures and a leg injury,” he said.

The personal injury lawsuit accuses Atmos of failing to ‘control and prevent gas leaks,’ ‘failing to perform operations in a safe, reasonable and prudent manner’ and claims ‘the injuries and damages that Plaintiff [Davis] sustained in the incident in question were caused by the gross negligence of Defendant [Atmos Energy].’

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and one million dollars, unless a jury determines a different amount.

“The lawsuit is about getting the compensation and the medical treatment taken care of for Mr. Davis,” said Allen.

The attorney was not able to speak openly about the decision to file suit against the company and not the owners of the apartment complex but pointed to ‘a history of [Atmos] not adequately inspecting lines.’

“We’re in the early stages. We have a rudimentary understanding of what happened and we’re undertaking an ongoing investigation,” he said.

NBC 5 reached out to public relations representatives with Atmos regarding the lawsuit but have yet to hear back.

The company previously states their equipment appears to have been working as intended.

The law firm and residents continue to anxiously await what investigators say caused the explosion.

“It is highly likely we’ll have our own experts and take a look at whether we agree with the state’s investigation,” said Allen.

After managing to collect a few personal items from his former home, Karriem paused to say one last prayer.

“I had to close it out. I wanted to let God knew I’m grateful for my life even though I lost all my possessions,” he said. “I’m moving on.”

He is however concerned about his neighbors, many low-income families who are struggling to recover from the explosion.

On Tuesday, the city of Dallas announced it is partnering with several organizations to provide the 250 displaced tenants a sort-of one-stop-shop for resources. Residents will be offered help from exploring lease termination options to replacing lost documents.

In a statement, the city said:

‘The City of Dallas’ Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Dallas Public Library, and the Office of the Mayor and City Council have coordinated with area non-profit organizations and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) to offer a resource guide and Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library during regular DPL business hours Tuesday and Wednesday. Only Highland Hills Apartments tenants may receive assistance Tuesday, Oct. 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 6 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Individuals who want to provide support to the Highland Hills Apartments’ residents are asked to donate to the City of Dallas Emergency Assistance Fund at the Dallas Foundation, bit.ly/3oqXGVu.  
If non-profit groups want to aid displaced residents, they may email oemdepartment@dallascityhall.com with their contact information and what resources they provide for inclusion in the resource guide.  
While the owners of the Highland Hills Apartments are responsible for housing their displaced tenants, the City of Dallas’ Office of Emergency Management (OEM) assisted in coordinating hotel stay.’

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