New York Daily News
PAY FOR PAIN
$183M award to Bravest vics of Black Sunday
THE FAMILIES of five of the six firefighters who died or were critically injured in the infamous Black Sunday blaze in the Bronx were awarded a whopping $183 million in damages Monday.
In one of the largest verdicts ever against the city, a Bronx jury found it and the landlord responsible for the catastrophic injuries the Bravest suffered that day.
At the heart of the lawsuit against the city was a failure by the Fire Department to equip its firefighters with personal safety ropes that would have let the men escape from the burning building in 2005.
All firefighters used to have such ropes, but they were taken away five years earlier.
The jury assigned 80% of the blame for the tragedy to the city — meaning taxpayers will have to cough up $146 million unless the award is reduced on appeal.
The blaze broke out just after dawn on Jan. 23, 2005, inside a tenement on E. 178th St. off the Grand Concourse.
Five firefighters and a lieutenant were trapped in an illegally subdivided apartment that was consumed by flames.
Unable to find their way out of the haphazardly constructed walls, the firefighters jumped five stories to avoid being burned to death.
Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, of Battalion 26, and Firefighter John Bellew, 37, of Ladder Co. 27 were killed. Firefighter Joseph DiBernardo — whose heels and feet were crushed by the impact — died six years later from the physical and psychological impact of his injuries, their lawyers said.
Firefighters Eugene Stolowski, Jeffrey Cool and Brendan Cawley survived but suffered life-changing injuries.
Meyran’s family settled his case separately, but the other firefighters, represented by lawyers from Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavoavo Cannavo, went to trial and won the verdict after Appellate Division judges last year ruled that the city could not claim immunity.
The Bronx jury deliberated for five days, mostly over testimony from former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, who made the decision to take away the ropes.
“It was such a stupid mistake.... I forgive him, but he’s gotta ask God for forgiveness,” said survivor Cool.
Building manager Cesar Rios, 59, was found guilty in 2009 of criminally negligent homicide and reck- less endangerment endangerment.
But his conviction was overturned a year later by a Bronx judge, who also vacated the conviction of the building landlord, a limited liability company called 234 E. 178th St.
A spokesman for the city Law Department said the landlord deserves more responsibility for the blaze, and the city would review its legal options. Since 2006, firefighters carry personal safety systems: a hook, a rope and a sliding mechanism.
Firefighter Richard Sclafani, 37, also died on Black Sunday in a Brooklyn blaze just hours after the Bronx tragedy.