Black Sunday Firefighters Awarded $183 Million

A Bronx jury has awarded three firefighters and the families of two deceased firefighters $183 million in damages stemming from the Black Sunday fire. The January 23, 2005 fire trapped six firefighters on the top floor of an apartment building from which they were forced to jump 40-50 feet.

Killed by the jump were Lieutenant Curtis Meyran, 46, and Firefighter John Bellew, 37. Permanently injured were Firefighters Joseph DiBernardo, Eugene Stolowski, Jeffrey Cool and Brendan Cawley. DiBernardo subsequently died six years later from the injuries he suffered in the fall.

The firefighters sued the building owners responsible for illegally sub-dividing apartments that contributed to their peril, as well as FDNY for failing to provide them with personal escape ropes. Lt. Meyran’s family settled a separate suit prior to the trial.

At trial, the city was forced to admit that had the men been assigned the ropes, none would likely have been injured. In the past such personal ropes had been issued, but had been discontinued in 2000 by then Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen. Shortly after the fire, the city reissued a modernized self-rescue system.

The jury assigned 80% of the blame to the fire department, meaning that $146.4 million of the damages will have to be paid by the city. The verdict is said to be one of the largest ever against New York City.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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