N.Y. jury awards firefighters $183 mln in deadly 2005 blaze

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2016 11:54 AM

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Five firefighters and their families have been awarded $183 million by a New York City jury following a trial stemming from a deadly 2005 apartment building blaze on a day that became known as "Black Sunday."

The fire, which tore through a tenement in the borough of the Bronx on Jan. 23, 2005, killed two firefighters and severely injured four others. One of the injured men died in 2011.

The city will shoulder $140 million of the award. The building's former owner, who settled with the families before the verdict was announced, will pay the remainder through its insurer.

The family of one of the six firefighters separately reached a settlement with the city before the verdict, which was delivered on Monday in Bronx state Supreme Court.

The firefighters became trapped on the fourth floor of the building, in part because of temporary walls that had been installed within the apartments.

In a statement, a spokesman for the city's law department said the jury had placed too much blame on the city and that it would consider an appeal.

"The city has always viewed this incident as a tragedy for the firefighters and their families, but we believe that the jury's verdict does not fairly apportion liability in view of compelling evidence that established that the landlord's numerous building code violations were directly responsible for this horrible event," the spokesman, Nick Paolucci, said.

But the five firefighters' lawyer, Vito Cannavo, said the fire department had failed to provide the men with ropes, forcing all six firefighters to jump out of the building. Two of the men, Lieutenant Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew, died on impact after a 50-foot leap from the building.

"They have grieved for 11 years," he said of his clients in a phone interview. "Finally, they got a chance to tell their version of what happened."

Darrell Whitely, a lawyer for the building's owner, said the absence of safety ropes was the "key factor" in the tragedy.

"I think it's very gratifying that the jury found the landlord was only 20 percent at fault in the case," he said, adding that the owner, Leslie Berman, felt empathy for the firefighters and had always hoped their families would receive proper compensation.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Tom Brown)