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Failed-fire-alarm suit is dismissed after settlement; resident died in west Little Rock blaze

by Linda Satter | April 19, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.

A wrongful-death lawsuit stemming from the Aug 18, 2016, death of Jannell Dillon, whose apartment's smoke detector failed to sound during a fire, has been settled, canceling a federal jury trial that was scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Dillon, 58, lived in Apartment 103 at The Landings at Rock Creek, a 154-unit apartment complex at 13200 Chenal Parkway. A federal lawsuit filed in 2017 on behalf of her older siblings alleged that the owner of the complex, Landings Acquisition LLC of Missouri, and the operator, Maxus Properties Inc., negligently caused her death by failing to replace expired smoke detectors that failed to sound in her apartment and an adjoining apartment.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes denied the defendants' request to dismiss the lawsuit and said the siblings would be allowed to seek punitive damages.

But in a brief order filed Thursday dismissing the case, Holmes said the case had been settled.

Attorney Paul James of Little Rock confirmed that the parties had resolved the case but deferred to defense attorney Spence Fricke, also of Little Rock, when asked the monetary amount of the settlement. Fricke didn't return a reporter's telephone call.

The complex was sold in February to C & W The Landings Apartments LLC and Woodcock Realty Holdings LLC of Midland, Texas, for $10.5 million.

James, who pursued the case along with Little Rock attorney Don Overton and St. Louis attorneys Edward Roth and Anthony Bruning, said Thursday, "The family did want closure and their whole intent was to bring this particular issue to the forefront."

Dillon was an attorney who once worked in Little Rock with attorney David Hargis, before moving to Fort Smith, where she worked for Legal Services Corp. She later returned to Little Rock, and just before the fire that began in her first-floor apartment, had applied to return to Queens College in Oxford, England, which she attended on a fellowship after graduating from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1980.

Dillon was found dead in her apartment of smoke and soot inhalation in a hallway outside two bedrooms, one of which the fire is believed to have started in overnight. Someone in a neighboring apartment, whose alarm also didn't sound, became aware of the fire in the morning and called 911.

The lawsuit said the smoke detector in Dillon's apartment had a 10-year life span and had been installed more than 13 years earlier.

The owner and operator of the complex suggested in court documents that Dillon started the fire by smoking in bed, although the cause of the fire was never determined. The defendants also said Dillon had nicotine, alcohol and other substances in her system at the time. But Holmes said that despite her medical history, which also caused her to be dependent on an oxygen tank, attorneys for her family had produced evidence that she would have been able to respond to a functioning smoke alarm.

Holmes also cited evidence that the complex purchased more than 100 replacement smoke alarms almost two years before the fire, but never got them installed.

Metro on 04/19/2019

Print Headline: Failed-fire-alarm suit is dismissed after settlement; resident died in west Little Rock blaze


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