Starnes II



A Roxana landlord who was sued for negligence and the wrongful death of two children following a fire at one of his apartments says the plaintiff's negligence was the proximate cause of the fire.

Tiffany Gresham and Toni Leeds, as special administrator of the estate of children who perished in the fire - Skye Nichole Gresham and Jason Matthew Gresham II - filed a lawsuit against Dawson M. Cooper on April 9 in Madison County Circuit Court over the fire that occurred in their upstairs apartment on Feb. 5, 2011.

The East Third Street property had been split into three apartments - two on the first floor and one on the second, according to the complaint. Gresham moved into the upstairs apartment in October 2010.

Gresham contends a faulty stove, electrical and gas line problems and missing or malfunctioning smoke detectors were to blame, according to the suit.

Cooper filed his response to the lawsuit on July 18. He claims Gresham's negligence caused the fire. He claims she failed to notify the defendant of problems she was having with the stove and that she tampered with the carbon monoxide detector by moving it or removing its batteries.

He also claims the conditions she complained about were open, obvious or known to her.

Gresham's complaint details the work done to convert the single-family home to a three-unit apartment building.

But, Cooper denies transforming the property into three separate apartments after acquiring it. He states that he presumes it had been transformed at some point in the past, though he states he has no actual knowledge of the transformation.

Gresham alleges Cooper failed to properly install electrical and gas lines, failed to maintain the stove, failed to warn the tenants about the risk of fire and failed to install and maintain smoke alarms.

Gresham says she suffered smoke inhalation during the fire and has endured pain and suffering. She accuses Cooper of negligence and asks to be awarded more than $50,000.

Co-plaintiff Leeds says the 5-year-old and 6-year-old children were sleeping when the fire started.

Attorneys Judy L. Cates and Ryan J. Mahoney of The Cates Law Firm in Swansea represent Gresham and Leeds.

Cates is a Democratic candidate seeking election to the Fifth District Appellate Court.

William B. Starnes II of Reed, Armstrong, Mudge & Morrissey represents the defense.

Madison County Circuit Court Case No. 2012-L-434

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