(May 10, 2022) – The owners of a Southern California apartment building did not remove a known bird infestation and are therefore liable for a tenant’s death from a disease caused by the animals’ waste, a state court lawsuit says.
The owners’ failure to provide a habitable living space for Alberto Gonzalez Alfaro, who suffered from a fungal infection at the time of his death, was negligent and violated state health and safety laws, according to the complaint, filed May 4 in the Orange County Superior Court.
“The home should be a safe, comfortable place,” the suit says. “Instead, this home became a death trap.”
The complaint names as defendants 5C Savanna LLC and Miramar Apartments LP.
According to the suit, Gonzalez Alfaro was diagnosed at age 19 with lupus, an autoimmune disease that put him at risk for infections and other ailments.
He lived with his parents, plaintiffs Emias Gonzalez and Ludy Alfaro, in a unit of the Franciscan Apartments building in Anaheim, California, the complaint says.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the family remained in their home for safety, the suit says.
In August 2020 they notified the building’s property manager about birds nesting in their unit’s air conditioner vent and about insects, attracted by the animals’ waste, crawling through the vent, the complaint says.
The suit says a maintenance worker investigated but did not remove the nest, clean up the waste or plug the vent hole.
Despite the plaintiffs’ repeated complaints, the birds continued to nest, and their droppings accumulated, the complaint says. The plaintiffs claim that they breathed pieces of the waste that the air conditioner blew into their unit.
Gonzalez Alfaro was admitted to the hospital in October 2020, suffering from weakness that prevented him from walking, weight loss and a chronic cough, the suit says.
Days later, he suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with cryptococcal meningitis, a disease caused by a fungus that is primarily found in bird waste, the complaint says.
Gonzalez Alfaro remained in the hospital until his death July 8, 2021, due to complications from the disease, the complaint says.
The suit says the defendants negligently allowed the bird infestation to persist. This created an unhealthy accumulation of bird droppings, particles of which should not have been allowed to enter the plaintiffs’ unit through the ventilation system, the suit says.
Breathing particles of bird waste is unsafe for a healthy person and is especially dangerous for people with autoimmune deficiencies, the complaint says.
The defendants’ failure to remedy the problem and protect their tenants violated Cal. Health & Safety Code § 17920.3, the plaintiffs say.
The defendants did not properly supervise their employees to ensure the building was well maintained, the suit says.
The plaintiffs say the defendants’ misconduct also breached the implied warranty of habitability, Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.1.
The complaint includes a claim for private nuisance under Cal. Civ. Code § 3479.
The plaintiffs, represented by Marc A. Karlin of Karlin & Karlin APLC, also seek compensatory damages, including medical expenses and lost earnings, for the loss of their son.
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