Utica Settles Wrongful Death Suit Over Apartment Fire

The City of Utica, New York has settled a federal lawsuit that accused the city of wrongful death and “purposely and maliciously withholding protective services from (the victims) because they lived in a low-income neighborhood.”

The suit arose out of a fire in an apartment building on September 20, 2009, that claimed the lives of Bruce Bush, Douglas Crane, Glenard Drake Jr. and Terry Singh. The fire led to at least six (6) different lawsuits, including at least two suits by family members of the deceased. Here is more about the six suits including the complaint that was filed in the case that was just settled.

Besides alleging wrongful death, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness, the federal court suit claimed that:

  • city officials: “failed to utilize proper and adequate and/or necessary and appropriate firefighting techniques, methods, actions and/or equipment to fight the fire at the Property and to rescue Decedents, in distinction to others similarly situated, based on improper considerations such as the Decedents’ socio-economic status and location of their residences in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983”
  • and that the city’s “failure to properly train and supervise its employees constituted a deliberate indifference to the safety and well-being of the Decedents and the public at large on the part of the Department.”

For the Legal Eagles, the §1983 action alleged deliberate indifference to the victims’ constitutional rights under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The settlement was reached on the eve of a jury trial schedule to be begin next week, and calls for the city to pay the families of a total of $300,000. 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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