Bronx fire survivors file lawsuit against apartment landlords

Plaintiffs seeking up to $3B in damages for victims

333 East 181st Street in the Bronx (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
333 East 181st Street in the Bronx (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

Two survivors of the fire in a Bronx apartment building that killed 17 people have filed the first lawsuit against the building’s property owners.

Lead plaintiffs Rosa Reyes and Felix Martinez are seeking $1 billion in compensatory damages for themselves and other victims of the fire, the Wall Street Journal reported. Defendants in the lawsuit include the current property owner — LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group — as well as the previous property owner, Cammeby’s International Group.

The lawsuit was filed in Bronx Superior Court. In addition to the $1 billion damage claim, the lawsuit is also seeking class-action status, arguing for $2 billion in collective punitive damages for the victims.

The lawsuit alleges the landlords at 333 East 181st Street let defects in the 120-unit building linger, including a lack of enforcement over the functionality of the fireproof doors or fire alarms.

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A spokeswoman for the consortium of building owners told the Journal they are “devastated by this terrible tragedy,” but didn’t directly comment on the lawsuit.

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The lawyer for the plaintiffs also filed a notice of claim against the city, alleging it failed to ensure that landlords provided functional self-closing doors as required by city law. Defendants for that claim include the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development and former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

According to the Journal, the claim would seek another $1 billion for those involved in the class-action suit, should a judge approve that status. The plaintiffs’ lawyer says 22 people have already joined the suit.

The move would bring the total amount of damages being sought to $3 billion.

Sunday’s fire killed 17 people, including eight children, marking the deadliest fire in the city in three decades. City officials have said the victims died of smoke inhalation and a door that failed to close accelerated the fire’s spread. A malfunctioning space heater is believed to be the culprit for the fire’s start.

A month before the fire, a resident complained of a malfunctioning radiator and a broken self-closing door. The building, which was constructed in 1972, had no fire escapes.

[WSJ] — Holden Walter-Warner

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