Flawed Safety Standards at Venetian Hills Lead to Tragic Fire Death, Resulting in $140 Million Verdict

Atlanta, Georgia – A tragic fire at the Venetian Hills apartment complex claimed the life of a resident, highlighting the urgent need for accountability in cases involving dangerous living conditions. Despite years of complaints about crime and substandard conditions, the owners of Venetian Hills neglected to address these issues, according to city code enforcement and police records. The complex’s owner allegedly converted the victim’s apartment into a boarding house without installing necessary fire safety equipment. The lack of fire sprinklers, alarms, and other safety measures ultimately led to the resident’s death.

Attorney Jeff Shiver emphasized the importance of holding responsible parties accountable in court for their negligence. Shiver represented the victim’s surviving sister and secured a verdict on her behalf on December 20. He highlighted the significance of civil claims in ensuring that property owners and landlords provide safe living environments. Shiver explained that these claims have the “real teeth” necessary to enforce safety standards.

During the trial, Venetian Hills’ attorney, Bryan Grantham, declined to comment. The complex attempted to shift the blame for the resident’s death onto a visitor, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and arson charges related to the fire. The complex argued that the fire safety equipment was not responsible for the tragic incident. However, investigators revealed that the fire was set by the visitor following a domestic dispute.

Venetian Hills is one of over 270 apartments mentioned in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Dangerous Dwellings investigation. The investigation shed light on persistently dangerous conditions in many Georgia apartments, as the state lacks minimum standards for property owners in terms of safety, habitability, and overall maintenance. Venetian Hills alone has a record of 150 complaints since 2017, ranging from broken windows and damaged doors to leaks, roach infestations, and rat problems.

The dire situation at Venetian Hills is further exemplified by the staggering crime statistics associated with the complex. From 2017 through April 2023, police reported a total of 87 crimes at this address, including aggravated assaults, robberies, and even a rape. Recognizing the ongoing problems, the city of Atlanta included Venetian Hills on its list of properties targeted for chronic crime or condition issues since January 2023.

While the recent $140 million verdict provides a glimmer of hope for the victim’s family, the outcome remains uncertain. Kinsale Insurance Company, the Richmond-based owner and insurer of Venetian Hills, intends to appeal the ruling. According to premises liability lawyer Mel Hewitt, large verdicts can often be significantly reduced through lengthy legal proceedings.

Despite the potential hurdles, this case serves as a reminder of the necessity to hold property owners and management accountable for ensuring the safety of their tenants. The ongoing lawsuit filed by Kinsale Insurance Company argues that the insurance policy does not cover the victim’s death and, therefore, does not require any payment. The resolution of this matter is expected to take several years.

The tragic incident at Venetian Hills underscores the need for stricter tenant protection laws in Georgia. The state’s current lack of regulations exposes residents to significant risks and hinders their ability to secure safe and decent living conditions. As legal battles ensue, it is imperative that property owners and management prioritize the safety of their premises. In a system with its flaws, civil claims remain one of the most effective means of holding them accountable.