Families of fatal Bronx apartment fire sue building owners

New York, New York – A Bronx apartment complex where 17 people were killed in a horrific fire last month was rife with safety violations that contributed to their deaths, according to new lawsuits seeking damages from the building owners.

The aftermath of the Bronx apartment building fire, which took 17 lives on January 9.
The aftermath of the Bronx apartment building fire, which took 17 lives on January 9.  © IMAGO/NurPhoto

Eight children were among the victims who perished on January 9 when an electric space heater set off the blaze in a Bronx apartment building, filling hallways and stairwells with thick, suffocating smoke.

But some, if not all the deaths, could likely have been prevented if the high-rise’s owners had addressed known safety issues, including malfunctioning doors that should have closed automatically and windows that did not open, the suits argue.

"What happened on January 9 was very devastating and tragic, and very unexpected, and could have been avoided," said Fatima Janneh, whose sister was among those killed, at a news conference on Tuesday outside the building.

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"We need justice for the families that lost people, as well as the other tenants in the building. We’re all victims to what happened here."

Janneh’s name is attached to one of five lawsuits filed by attorney Benjamin Crump in the Superior Court in the Bronx.

The lawsuits allege that "negligence" by the property owners contributed to the deaths and injuries sustained in the fire.

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The community gathers to mourn the lives lost from the Bronx apartment building fire at the Islamic Cultural Center.
The community gathers to mourn the lives lost from the Bronx apartment building fire at the Islamic Cultural Center.  © IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

The plaintiffs include the mother of a 2-year-old boy who died and parents whose 12-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter were killed. Also suing is a 20-year-old mother whose 3-month-old son was hospitalized.

Crump, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the safety violations caused an "unspeakable loss of life."

The building is owned by a consortium of real estate companies called Bronx Park Phase III Preservation, whose executives have said they are cooperating in the investigation.

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James Yolles, a spokesman for the building owners, said that the landlord is helping residents with social service and relocation assistance. He noted residents have signed 21 leases at a nearby development, with five more expected to be signed by the end of the week.

"The complaints filed today allege that last month’s tragic fire was caused by the negligence of the building’s owners and their agents," Yolles said in a statement, according to ABC News. "We believe the facts will show that allegation to be false."

The lawsuits do not specify monetary damages.

Cover photo: IMAGO/NurPhoto

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