Families Sue Building Owners Over Bronx Fire That Killed 17

(AP) — Several families whose loved ones died or were injured while trying to escape a smoked-filled Bronx apartment building sued the owners Tuesday, alleging safety violations that led to the wrongful deaths of 17 people, including eight children.

The five lawsuits were 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 a lot of the families who paid such a tragic loss in the apartment fire,” Crump said during a news conference outside the building, saying violations of city safety rules “caused unspeakable loss of life and injury to these families, mostly from Africa.”

A malfunctioning electric space heater started the blaze the morning of January 9, fire officials said.

While the fire damaged only a small part of the building, it produced caustic smoke that quickly engulfed the complex. The suffocating smoke rose through a stairwell of the 19-story building and killed people as they attempted to flee.

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

The lawsuits do not specify monetary damages, nor does it mention specific safety violations.

A spokesperson for the building’s owners denied they were responsible.

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

Several relatives of the fire victims spoke at the news conference to express frustration over the uncertainties spawned by the fire as they look for new places to live. Some remain in hotel rooms.