Families sue building owners over Bronx fire that killed 17 people

NEW YORK – Several families whose loved ones died or were injured trying to escape a smoke-filled Bronx apartment building sued the owners Tuesday, alleging a safety breach led to their wrongful death. 17 people, including eight children.

The five lawsuits are filed on behalf of the families by Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney based in Florida, and the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.

“We have so many families that have paid the price of a catastrophic loss in an apartment fire,” said Crump at a news conference outside the building. city” has caused untold damage to these families, mainly because of Africa.”

Fire officials said a malfunctioning electric heater began to catch fire on the morning of January 9.

While the fire damaged only a small portion of the building, it produced caustic smoke that quickly enveloped the complex. The suffocating smoke rose through a staircase of the 19-story building and killed everyone as they tried to flee.

Crump, who is noted as a spokesman for the family of George Floyd, said: “These Black families have lost so much and seem marginalized not just before the devastating fire. happens, but also the consequences that follow.

The lawsuits, filed in Superior Court in the Bronx, name the Bronx Park Phase III Preserve, Bronx Phase III Housing Ltd., and three investment groups as defendants.

The lawsuits do not specify monetary damages, nor do they address specific safety violations.

But another attorney for the families, Larry Goldhirsch, said those specifics would be determined over the next week, including malfunctioning door springs and unopenable windows.

A spokesman for the building owners denied they were responsible.

Spokesman James Yolles said: “Complaints filed today allege that last month’s tragic fire was caused by the negligence of the building owners and their agents. “We believe the facts will show that allegation to be false.”

Several relatives of the fire victims spoke at the news conference to express their disappointment at the uncertainties caused by the fire as they searched for new places to live. Some are still in hotel rooms.

“What happened on January 9 was devastating and tragic, and very unexpected, and could have been avoided. I lost my sister in the fire. She’s trying to get down to save my family,” said Fatima Janneh, whose sister Sera, 27, was among the dead.

“We need justice for the bereaved families, as well as the other tenants in the building. We are all victims of what happened here,” said Janneh.

The plaintiffs include the mother of the 2-year-old boy who died and the parents who lost their 12-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. They also included a 20-year-old mother whose 3-month-old son was hospitalized.

Many of the residents are immigrants from the Gambia. Their common roots, with some coming from the same village, form a close-knit community.

While Tuesday’s lawsuit – among several already filed on behalf of the victims and their families – does not allege a civil rights violation, some families said they feel forgotten. and marginalized in society.

“We may be Black and brown, African and immigrant, but we are working-class people, and we are irreplaceable. We do not use one time. You can’t throw us out just because, you know, we have a certain socioeconomic status,” said Fatiah Touray, who moved out of the building after 23 years there.

Some residents complained about living conditions leading to the need for heaters in some apartments.

Some residents have agreed to move to another development near the building, Twin Parks North West, Yolles said.

“We continue to work 24 hours a day with our relocation assistance, social services and property management teams to support and assist Twin Parks North West residents following the catastrophic fire last month. advance, including providing them with a variety of high-quality options for resettlement in the Bronx,” said Yolles, chief executive officer of Risa Heller Communications.

In their haste to escape, the occupants of the apartment where the fire started left the front and rear doors open.

The spring loaded hinge that was supposed to close the automatic door didn’t work. A second door to open in a higher staircase acts as a chimney, drawing smoke upwards.

Fire investigators said the apartment’s front door and a door on the 15th floor should have closed on its own to prevent smoke from spreading, but the door remained fully open. It is not clear if the door was mechanically damaged or disabled manually.

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