UPDATE | Marshall Square settlement can't replace life of Dot Carpenter, says family attorney

Published: Mar. 31, 2017 at 5:36 PM EDT
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News 12 NBC 26 News At 11 | Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017

UPDATE | 11:45 p.m.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- After more than two years of back-and-forth and court battles, the wrongful death lawsuit in the deadly Marshall Square fire has been settled.

Attorneys representing the family of 91-year-old Dot Carpenter, the only one who died inside the facilities the morning of the fire, met with attorneys representing the owners of Marshall Square Monday afternoon to talk a possible settlement and their upcoming court dates.

Two years of pain and drawn-out court cases are finally over for the family of Dot Carpenter. The settlement attorney Harry Revell and Carpenter's daughter Barbara Ellington never thought would happen is finally reached with Marshall Square.

"It's a shame and a tragedy that she was abandoned in this building and left to die," Revell says. "You can just imagine the loss of your parent is an emotional event in and of itself, but under these circumstances just exacerbated that loss and made it even more painful and more difficult. Having to endure the litigation, it was not an easy thing for her to do but she was strong. She was tough."

But the end almost was not in sight for attorneys on both sides.

Revell says they were ready for another round of courtroom fights with defense attorneys focusing on Marshall Square's fire policy. The lawsuit named the maker of the air conditioner that caught fire, Marshall Square owners and three Columbia County firefighters for their part in creating the fire escape policies and procedures.

"It would have been a long, complex, three-week trial that was vigorously defended by capable lawyers on the defense side," Revell says. "It appears that those were the three that have the best opportunity to get to Ms. Carpenter sooner before she died.

"We were able to show that the policies and procedures in place to handle the situations were not followed properly and we just the jury could have decided among the various parties who bears what responsibility. So everybody that was involved could have done a better job, which we think could have prevented this tragedy."

Fortunately, a judge stepped in to help bring the two sides to an agreement Monday afternoon after hours of talks. Revell says talks carried on between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. throughout the afternoon with intense talks between the judge and attorneys on both sides before the agreement was met.

"The most culpable people," Revell says, "are the Marshall Square people operating the thing that had absolutely no fire safety, no fire drills or anything in place that would have prevented this horrible loss."

While this is over, this attorney still says the price of this settlement can not replace the life of Dot Carpenter.

"It's a deadly, horrific lesson," Revell says. "As sad as Dot's loss was, it was amazing there weren't more because it was a recipe for disaster in many aspects."

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The final wrongful death suit on behalf of Dot Carpenter in the devastating fire at Marshall Square Retirement Community back in June 2015 has been settled.

Attorneys state they reached a settlement at 5:30 p.m. Monday after a full day of mediation in the Barbara Ellington suit. The settlement is against Marshall Square and three individual Columbia County firefighters.

Since this is private legal matter, the settlement amount was not given.

Two years have passed, and many plaintiffs listed in the original suits have passed on. The settlement reached Monday brings an end to the nearly two-year wrongful death legal battle after the fire engulfed the complex. Attorneys say that all that's left are a few property damage cases to be taken care of.

The land that the former Marshall Square community sat on has since been sold and is currently being redeveloped.

Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A few years after the devastating fire at Marshall Square, authorities are deliberating what happened.

Authorities are discussing testimony made by firemen that the building was a tinderbox.

There are conflicting testimonies concerning whether or not a fire evacuation plan was in place.

Since the deadly fire, there have been several developments, including one in which attorneys said they've reached settlement with the A/C unit maker, Goodman, on the property damage lawsuit and the wrongful death lawsuit connected to the Marshall Square fire.

A few months ago, attorneys announced a settlement in two of the major pending civil lawsuits, one for 17 people who sued over property damage and one for survivor Rhetta Cadle.

News 12 NBC 26 / Wednesday, May 4, 2017

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Two years after the devastating fire at Marshall Square, 18 people who lived at the retirement community can finally move on.

Attorneys announced a settlement in two of the major pending civil lawsuits, one for 17 people who sued over property damage and one for survivor Rhetta Cadle.

I caught up with a couple who lived there, Thomas and Dorothy England. They were the face of the property damage suit and say as this lawsuit ends, it feels like a new beginning.

At 90 years old, the Englands are walking out of the courthouse and into a new life.

"We are so relieved it's all over!" Thomas said.

In June 2015, the fire at Marshall Square destroyed everything they owned.

"I'm trying to get it out of my mind after losing my piano and all my music and 84 figurines and the nativity scene from Germany. I can still hear my grandmother's clock striking," Dorothy said.

They struck back with a lawsuit and teamed up with 15 others. Their attorneys have been racing the clock for justice the past two years. Today, they made this announcement.

"We are pleased to announce to the court that case has been resolved by settlement," attorney Sam Nicholson said to the judge.

It was a message almost as sweet as the sound of Dorothy's new piano.

"It's a door closed," Thomas said.

"I have my piano now!" Dorothy said.

"I bought her a new piano," Thomas chimed in.

As they leave their old life behind, the only thing still burning is their love for each other.

"I'm ready to move into another life if we can open it up. After 67 years, it's like newlyweds!" Dorothy said as Thomas shushed her.

Tom says even a million dollars wouldn't replace their old life, but today they got relief and maybe that's worth more.

The settlement is confidential, but everyone seems happy with the terms. The case on behalf of Dot Carpenter, who died in the fire, still has not been resolved.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Two more lawsuits filed after the deadly Marshall Square fire have been fully settled.

The second property damage suit, with 17 victims named in it and Rhetta Cadle's pain and suffering lawsuit have now been settled.

Last week, they settled with A/C unit maker, Goodman Company. This time the suit is settled for good. They are both over.

There is still a hearing Wednesday in front of the judge to announce the settlement.

The Barbara Ellington wrongful death suit on behalf of Dot Carpenter is still ongoing. No part of that has been settled and there is no trial date for it yet.

Friday, April 28, 2017

5:30 p.m.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Attorneys have said they've reached settlement with the A/C unit maker, Goodman, on the property damage lawsuit and the wrongful death lawsuit connected to the Marshall Square fire.

The victims' attorneys reached a settlement with A/C unit maker Goodman Company on 2 of the 3 pending cases: the Tom England property damage suit and the Barbara Ellington wrongful death suit on behalf of Dot Carpenter. However, they did not reach a settlement in the Rhetta Cadle case. Cadle was trapped in her bathroom during the fire for 7 hours before she was rescued.

They also did not come to an agreement or settlement with Marshall Square, Resort Lifestyle Communities company.

11 a.m.

Attorneys in the Marshall Square investigation are meeting today for mediation. They say they are hoping to resolve all pending cases.

If they don't settle Friday, the property damage case and Rhetta Cadle's suit is set for trial on May 22.

News 12 NBC 26 / Thursday, March 31, 2017

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A judge forces the company that made the A/C unit in Marshall Square to hand over loads of information related to other fires across the country.

In September, Goodman Company paid $5.55 million because of a federal lawsuit claiming they failed to report their A/C units had defects that could cause fires.

Attorneys in the Marshall Square case have been trying to get the information on those fires ever since. Thursday a judge made sure they will.

"This is a big case. It deserves big work. This is the biggest fire that's ever happened in Columbia County. Dorothy Carpenter lost her life. Rhetta Cadle was injured. Scores of residents lost personal property. We are treating this like a big deal and now they are, too," plaintiff's attorney Adam King said.

The judge sided with King, the attorney for Marshall Square residents, when he argued their side should see all the information about similar fires caused by Goodman A/C units. It's all related to

saying the company "knowingly failed to inform the Consumer Product Safety Commission" that its product had a "hazardous defect."

The A/C units at risk were installed in hotels, hospitals and schools across the country. Fire investigators say a Goodman A/C unit started the fire at Marshall Square.

"If they've got that many fires going on, then it needs to be made transparent. It need to be made open to the public," King said.

Goodman says they don't have to release it because, in their opinion, the fires in other parts of the country aren't similar at all. Goodman attorney Tom Mazziotti argued those units had different model numbers and power cords and were made years after the recall. Plus, he argued, it's too broad a request.

King wasn't buying it.

"If there are that many fires in Goodman PTAC [packaged terminal air conditioning] units that they can't parse down what we need, that's something we need to know about, and really it's something the citizens of Columbia County need to know about if we are putting those air conditioning units in residences around here," King said.

The judge gave Goodman 10 days to hand over the information which gives the other side a little over a month to look over it before they could go to trial.

"It will help us determine just how deep Goodman's negligence goes in this case," King said.

When asked if the thought there are inherent problems in Goodman's product, King said, "I do."

May 22 is the trial date for the case of Rhetta Cadle, the woman who was injured in the fire, and Tom England, another property damage suit.

Another bombshell that came out of court was when Mazziotti said he does not believe the fire at Marshall Square started in the A/C unit. Goodman has a different theory but they did not say what that theory was.

To this point, fire investigators have cited the A/C unit as the source of the fire.