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This item originally appeared in the Nov. 6, 2003, issue of The Tech Talk.


Staff Writer

Anthony Stonaker, a junior architecture major, filed a lawsuit Oct. 30 against Tech for negligence in regard to a residence hall fire last winter that he charges left him with a large sum in personal property damages.

The fire caused evacuation of Cottingham Residence Hall and displacement of some of its residents who lived on the second floor.

Stonaker's attorney, James Beal, said Stonaker's case is based on the idea that in a situation where a student is renting a room in a residence hall, the school has an obligation to keep the student's residence hall safe.

"Fortunately, there was no major, permanent injury or loss of life from the fire," Beal said. "It will be difficult to determine now what defects caused the fire, but I feel that the liability is still in Tech's court."

The blaze affected more than Stonaker, who said his suit has been joined by at least two others, one of which is a suit from multiple students.

Stonaker said his suit will use a Tech Talk letter to the editor by Adam Gross, a resident of Cottingham, published in the Dec. 12, 2002, edition. The letter attempted to clear up details about the fire the writer said were misrepresented in previous reports.

The letter stated Cottingham had no smoke detectors; a student manually pulled the fire alarm minutes into the fire. It also stated windows in Cottingham rooms were painted shut and resisted students' attempts to open them during the fire.

Stonaker, who was running a personal computer repair business out of his dorm room at the time, said he was partially compensated for damages by his insurance company and given a refund by Dr. Jim King, vice president for student affairs.

"I received money from an insurance claim, which covered part of what I lost," Stonaker said. "I also received a housing fee refund. I appreciated it wholeheartedly, but I was still in the hole."

Stonaker said in a meeting with King, he was told if all other options open to him were unsatisfactory, he should file a suit.

"I exhausted every other available option and still had received about only half of the compensation that I needed to get," Stonaker said.

Stonaker said his suit is based on conflicting reports from both the fire marshal and the Office of Risk Management, Tech's insurer, which reviewed the blaze.

Stonaker said the fire marshal's report blamed a window unit for the origin of the fire, and the Office of Risk Management cited extension cords and power strips for starting the fire.

Beal said the difference is that the report of the fire beginning at a window unit involves an appliance Tech is responsible for, whereas the extension cord report given by the Office of Risk Management involves students' property.

As of press time, representatives for the Office of Risk Management were unavailable for comment on the suit.

"It really doesn't make a difference," Beal said. "In either case, there should have been a circuit breaker guarding that residence hall. Something should have tripped to keep the short from happening and then we wouldn't have to deal with this situation like this."

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