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HOUSTON-The family of a 42-year-old proofreader who drowned June 9 in a Bank of America elevator has filed a gross negligence lawsuit against building owner Hines Interest and Setec Protection Services, the structure’s security company.

Kristie Tautenhahn was leaving the Houston law offices of Mayer Brown & Platt when she was trapped in the elevator during Tropical Storm Allison. Chris Brown and Robert Thackston, both of Jenkens & Gilchrist, filed the suit before the Harris County Probate Court.

In a hearing yesterday, Judge Russell Austin reached an agreement with Hines and the plaintiff’s attorneys to access the underground garage to gather evidence for the discovery phase. “We requested the temporary restraining order to halt Hines’ reconstruction of the Bank of America garage because the work may be destroying evidence that will show what happened when Kristie followed building management’s instruction to retrieve her vehicle,” Brown tells GlobeSt.com. “Our intention is to inspect and photograph the area.”

Hines reportedly hired an expert to review the parking garage, according to Brown who says he doesn’t know the outcome of the inspection.

Hines is not commenting on the litigation. Hines attorney Michael Goldberg of Baker Botts did not return telephone calls by press time.

According to police reports, the victim was acting on instructions to move her vehicle from the underground parking area at 700 Louisiana. Brown likened the incident to a fire, explaining security would not have told Tautenhahn to leave the safety of her 36th-floor office to go down to the fire level.

Brown says the rules of the court don’t allow for the lawsuit to specify specific monetary damages, but he plans to seek a compensatory award. Brown emphasized the victim’s family, namely her parents, Bertie and Carl Tautenhahn of Corpus Christi, want to force safety measures in commercial buildings to prevent similar tragedies.

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