53ºF

Lawsuit claims Harvey victim who died at Omni wasn't first to be trapped at flooded hotel

HOUSTON – A lawsuit filed in the death of a woman who drowned at Houston’s Omni Hotel during Hurricane Harvey has claimed she was not the first person to be trapped in an elevator at the hotel during a flood.

Attorneys representing the family of Jill Renick have scheduled a news conference Thursday to discuss additions to the lawsuit filed in early June over her death. Investigators said the 48-year-old hotel employee was found dead at the hotel on Sept. 7, 2017 -- 11 days after she called the hotel’s front desk to alert them she was trapped in an elevator.

"This was an easily preventable tragedy. There were missteps and oversights at multiple levels by multiple parties," said the Renick family's attorney, John Spillane.

Additions to the lawsuit include an account from a former employee of the hotel, who said they became trapped in an elevator in the basement during a flood in 2015, and information about previous elevator code violations, according to attorneys.

"It came to light that in the flooding of Memorial Day weekend of 2015, another employee had become trapped in the same hotel in an elevator that had gone into the basement," Spillane said. "Water was already coming into the basement because the water was flooded... What, if anything, (did) the Omni (do) after that event? We don't know. But we know that it wasn't enough."

Spillane said the investigations also raised questions about how the elevators were inspected.

"Since 2010, the Houston Building Code has required flood sensors in elevators to prevent this exact event from occurring," Spillane said. "These code provisions require that elevators such as this that service below the floodplain have a flood sensor in them that prevent the elevator from traveling into water. We are very concerned... the family is very concerned that if this code prevention was not recognized or enforced by the premise and building owner, the hotel, but also the elevator company who are doing work on the elevators and the inspection companies."

Lawyers said two more defendants were also added to the lawsuit – National Elevator Inspection Services and American Elevator Inspections.

The lawsuit, which claims that Renick’s death was preventable, also accused Otis Elevator of created a “death trap” because the hotel’s elevators did not have flood sensors.

"If this flood sensor had been in place as it was supposed to (be) according to code and industry standard, we wouldn't be here today," Spillane said.

Officials at the hotel have previously said they cannot comment on pending litigation.


About the Authors: