Bronx fire victims file first lawsuit against tower owners

A couple who survived the Bronx, NY fire that killed 17 people have sued the current and former owners of the apartment tower, alleging the owners knew of the faulty conditions of the 120-unit building.

Sunday’s fire, probably triggered by a faulty heater, was one of the deadliest in New York City history. The victims died of smoke inhalation, according to city officials.

A faulty door that failed to close accelerated the spread of smoke after the fire broke out in a third-floor unit and the family inside fled to safety, officials said .

Rosa Reyes and Felix Martinez, the lead plaintiffs, are seeking $1 billion in compensatory damages for themselves and other fire victims, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Bronx Supreme Court. The lawsuit also seeks class action status, alleging that those affected are collectively entitled to $2 billion in punitive damages.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the building’s current joint venture owner, Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, and its three member companies, as well as the former owners who sold the 19-story property in 2019.

The lawsuit alleges that the owners of the building failed to ensure that the steel fire doors remained functional and that the fire alarms were working properly or providing adequate heat, among other things.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Vilensky also filed a notice of claim against the city on Tuesday, signaling its intention to seek an additional $1 billion for those who join the proposed class action lawsuit. A judge must approve the request to grant the lawsuit class action status.

“There is not a high enough number,” Mr. Vilensky said.

Kelly Magee, spokeswoman for Bronx Park Phase III Preservation, said the company is cooperating fully with the city’s investigation into the fire.

“We are devastated by this terrible tragedy,” she said in an emailed statement. She did not comment on the lawsuit.

The Notice of Claim, filed with the City Comptroller’s Office, names the Department of Buildings and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development as well as former Mayor Bill de Blasio, among other officials, as defendants.

The city “failed in every respect” to ensure the owners provided functioning self-closing doors, which is required by New York City law, the claim states.

City legal department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci said the plaintiffs’ complaint is being reviewed as the fire investigation continues.

Mr. Vilensky said he expects his claim against the city to be incorporated into the Bronx class action as the two cases move forward. He said he already has 22 plaintiffs who have joined the lawsuit against the owners of the building and expects that number to grow.

Footage from New York shows smoke billowing from windows as a fire tore through a 19-story building in the Bronx on Sunday and killed at least 17 people. Officials say the fire appears to be the result of a malfunctioning radiator and a self-closing door. Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

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