The Upstairs Lounge Fire


City Not Liable in Lawsuits

Appeals Court Rules City Not Liable in Lounge Fire

The City of New Orleans, though it sets building and safety standards and makes inspections, is not liable to families of victims of the June 1973 Upstairs Lounge fire, according to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.

This court in ruling on 14 cases in which about $20 million was claimed, thus upheld a December 1975 ruling from Civil District Court Judge Gerald Fedoroff.

Thirty-two lives were lost in the blaze at 604 Iberville.

The plaintiffs claimed the city was guilty of “affirmative neglect,” in that it knew of flammable materials, metal bars over windows, a false ceiling and raised stage.

But the city said it could not be “a guarantor of the safety of each person who uses a building constructed under the city ordinances.”

Judge John Boutall agreed with Judge Stoulig, but Judge Ernest Morial dissented.

Judge Soulig said “the plaintiff is incorrect in assuming either failure to inspect or negligent inspection created a cause of action against the city to every patron injured in a fire in the premises.

“Plaintiff’s position in this case is actually a reverse application of governmental immunity.

“The abolition of governmental immunity requires that states and municipalities be treated the same as an individual citizen. The city owed him no individual duty.”

City Atty. Philip Brooks noted it is unreasonable to hold the city responsible for each inspection.

He said it is impossible, for example, for the city to stop someone from sealing up a doorway immediately after a fire inspection and prior to the next inspection.

“The duty to inspect the Upstairs Lounge by any of the agencies joined as defendants is imposed to protect the public generally against potential hazards. There was no duty owed individually to all future patrons of this bar,” stated Judge Soulig.

The Appeals Court upholds the ruling by a District Court judge that the city and its agencies are not liable to families of victims of the fire.
Source: The Times-Picayune, January 13, 1977.
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