Maxima lawyer defends safety response before disaster

The lawyer representing supermarket chain Maxima in the case of the Zolitūde roof-collapse tragedy responded Friday to questioning about the catastrophe by arguing that “no socially responsible business drives people back and forth in and out every time the safety alarm goes off without having determined its cause.”

Asked by victims’ group lawyer Aldis Gobzems whether he believed Maxima had behaved in a ‘socially responsible’ way both before and after the tragedy, in which 54 persons lost their lives and others sustained debilitating injury, Jānis Rozenbergs answered in the affirmative, claiming the company was and continues to be in observance of all applicable laws.

However, when further probed as to why the shopping center wasn’t evacuated of all customers and staff, Rozenbergs said no such action was necessary and therefore wasn’t taken.

“Of course it was socially responsible (not to evacuate). It was socially responsible not to drive people in and out of the store every time the alarm goes off and no potential fire hazard is found. These alarms cannot predict anything more than a fire outbreak – there was never any fire outbreak at this store and none was found at the time, no argument there. Thus the decision not to evacuate was completely logical, justified and reasonable,” he summarized.

He further explained that both formally, as well as in the letter and spirit of the law in effect at the time, (since amended by Saeima), the Maxima staff followed corporate instructions according to which people are not supposed to begin evacuating unless a premises inspection reveals a fire or the potential for one. “Whether or not people were evacuated has nothing to do causally with the tragedy that transpired – one might say it was a coincidence of circumstances that the alarm went off,” Rozenbergs told Gobzems at the hearing.

The internal corporate instructions on fire alarm response were completely in line with the law and they “in our view as well as that of the State Fire and Safety Service (VUGD) were correct,” Rozenbergs said.

Today’s hearing focused only on the testimony of Maxima, whereas construction firm Re&Re is scheduled to testify at the hearing set for January 23.

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