National civil rights attorney Ben Crump spearheads 4th Bronx fire lawsuit

fire vigil
A makeshift memorial erected during a candlelight vigil held in January for the victims of the Fordham Heights fire.
Photo Adrian Childress

A fourth lawsuit stemming from the tragic Twin Parks North West apartment fire that killed 17 people in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx last month has been filed by prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump on Tuesday.

The suit alleges that the negligence of building owners in failing to ensure the building was compliant with health and safety codes led to the disastrous outcomes of Jan 9. The lawsuit is on the behalf of Mahamadou Hassimi and Safietou Bocoum, whose son and daughter perished in the fire; Fatoumata Sankanu whose two-year-old son was attending daycare in the building when he perished in the fire; the Janneh family who lost their 27-year-old daughter, Sera, and have three additional family members who were hospitalized with injuries; and Diariato Isabel Drame, a 20-year-old mother from Angola, whose three-month-old son was hospitalized with injuries.

Crump said the violation of safety rules caused “unspeakable loss of life” and injury to the victims.

Crump, who has been involved in high-profile cases — providing legal assistance to the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake, the people poisoned during the Flint water crisis, and the plaintiffs behind the 2019 Johnson & Johnson baby powder lawsuit that alleged the company’s talcum powder product led to ovarian cancer diagnoses — said he could not allow corporations to put profits over safety.

“There is no greater tragedy than parents having to grieve for their children. While we can’t bring them back, we can help their families get answers to why and how this happened. Justice in this case is holding those responsible accountable and ensuring that no community has to suffer a loss like this again,” he said in a statement. “This building was home to a very close-knit community in pursuit of the American dream when their world was devastated by this preventable tragedy. We are determined to get them the justice they deserve.”

In addition to Ben Crump Law, plaintiffs are also being represented by personal injury firm Weitz & Luxenberg, and the team is looking for people affected by the fire to contact them for compensation.

The lawsuit does not specify any monetary damages being sought, nor does it mention any specific safety violations.

Property owners of the Twin Parks North West complex Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, a consortium that includes Belveron Partners, the LIHC Investment Group and The Camber Property Group, are now defendants in four lawsuits, including a $3 billion class action lawsuit.

The first lawsuit, a class action filed by experienced fire litigation attorneys from Ronemus & Vilensky in Manhattan, said the plaintiffs were seeking ”costs and disbursements” of more than $1 billion. The second suit, filed by Edelman, Krasin & Jaye partner Paul Edelman on behalf of Gambian tenant Hullamatou Ceesay, sought punitive and exemplary damages of $500 million, according to the filing. Those lawsuits were moved to federal court in Manhattan last month.

Throughout its 123 building portfolio, Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC has a total of 11,801 residential units, but within just the last three years had received 2,468 heat and hot water complaints submitted to the city’s 311 service, according to NYC-based tenant-organizing service JustFix NYC. Before the Jan. 9 fire, there were 18 open violations against the property, with 174 total violations levied since new ownership took over in 2020, records filed with the city Department of Housing  Preservation and Development show.

third lawsuit, filed by husband and wife Rosa Reyes and Felix Martinez, who are seeking $1 billion and compensatory damages for alleged negligence and another $2 billion in punitive damages on behalf of themselves and others affected by the fire, remains in Bronx Supreme Court as of Monday.

The Jan, 9 fire, which required the response of 200 firefighters and emergency personnel, was caused by a space heater that had been left on for far too long, fire officials say. However, various tenants have stated that the building owners did not address a backlog of residential concerns including but not limited to, lack of heat, lack of hot water, and poor qualitative conditions in the building which led to common usage of space heaters throughout the complex.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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