Father of N.S. student who died in Cape Breton house fire sues landlords, tenants

SYDNEY, N.S. — The father of a Cape Breton University student who died in a house fire is suing his son's landlords and two of his roommates, alleging there was inadequate fire safety equipment and fellow tenants failed to properly extinguish "smoking materials."

The suit’s statement of claim filed with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia says Rajesh Gollapudi died on Dec. 17, 2022, at the age of 34 from injuries he sustained in a fire that consumed his residence in Sydney, N.S.

Gollapudi’s father, Seshagiri Rao Gollapudi, who resides in India, says in a Feb. 9 amendment to the claim that his son was unable to escape the home on Park Street during the blaze.

The suit names the owners and landlords of the residence — Ontario-based Hanover Storage Inc. and a numbered Nova Scotia company — as defendants, and alleges they failed to provide Gollapudi with adequate fire safety equipment and emergency procedures.

It also accuses the landlords of failing to properly maintain smoke alarms or fire detection devices in the home, and for designing the residence in an ineffective or dangerous way that renders it unsafe in the event of a fire.

As well, the statement names as defendants two fellow tenants, Sai Kiram Vadaddi and Ajay Chowdary, alleging they failed to properly extinguish "smoking materials" and failed to detect and put out a minor fire. The lawsuit doesn't identify the nature of those materials.

Court documents say the landlords have already been charged with seven fire safety infractions and that they are scheduled to enter a plea in March in provincial court.

The allegations in the lawsuit have not been tested in court. A spokesperson for Hanover Storage Inc. declined to comment, and the other defendants could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Jan. 11, 2023, a candlelight vigil was held by the Cape Breton University Students’ Union to honour Gollapudi. The university’s director of student affairs, John Mayich, issued a statement on that day inviting the school community to attend the event in honour of Gollapudi and extending his condolences to the student’s family and friends.

“At times like this, community is important, and I want you to know that you are not alone as you grieve,” reads Mayich’s statement, which includes a list of resources for grief and counselling services available to students and staff.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024.

— By Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax.

The Canadian Press