The first lawsuit over last month’s deadly Jay Street fire has been filed in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County.
A tenant of 104 Jay St., where the fire started March 6, is suing property owner Ted Gounaris and Ideal Property Services of Glenville, the business that maintained the building, for damages and additional costs to be determined by the court.
Jesse Pappalau, who lived on the fourth floor of the building, is being represented by James Hacker of the law firm of E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy. The lawsuit was filed April 1 with the Schenectady County Clerk.
According to the lawsuit, Pappalau was in his apartment at the time of the fire and sustained injuries from the blaze.
Gounaris and Ideal Property Services had notice and knowledge of the dangerous and hazardous conditions of the building, the lawsuit claims, yet failed to “adequately inspect, maintain and repair the premises at issue including, but not limited to, its failure to properly maintain and inspect the fire alarms and water sprinklers at the premises in question in proper working order and by disconnecting the smoke detectors in the building’s common areas, which constitutes willful wanton conduct.”
Attorney E. Stewart Jones said he believes Pappalau has a solid case. He said Pappalau suffered significant emotional and psychological trauma from the fire but was not burned in the blaze.
“The tenant lost everything he had,” Jones said. “There is a damages claim for traumatization.”
Jones said the condition of the building and disconnected smoke detectors was confirmed by Pappalau and other tenants who lived in the building. He said the firm has not received confirmation of the allegations from investigators.
“We don’t have any records at this time, but they will be provided during the course of the lawsuit,” he said. “Also, as it unfolds, we will specify a specific amount in damages. Right now, it’s too premature to provide a dollar amount.”
The fire was ruled accidental by local, state and federal investigators. It started in the fourth floor apartment of Harry Simpson, 59. According to Schenectady Fire Chief Ray Senecal, Simpson’s upholstered chair caught fire from either a candle, incense or cigarettes, which were all in proximity to the chair at the time.
Simpson and three other people perished in the fire. The other victims were identified as Robert Thomas, 31, and Berenices Suarez, 33, both of 104 Jay St., and Suarez’s boyfriend, Jermaine Allen, 37.
Seven people were hospitalized for injuries sustained in the fire, and about 60 tenants were displaced. Several tenants in each of the buildings said they were not properly maintained and that fire alarms and sprinkler systems did not function.
City Building Inspector Eric Shilling said code enforcement officials inspected all 20 units at 104 Jay St. just hours before the fire, and Gounaris was cited for an expired fire alarm system certification and expired boiler and furnace certifications. The alarm system certification expired Feb. 26, Shilling said, though he stressed that does not mean it was not working at the time of the fire.
Shilling said the five-story building was inspected by the city due to a recent change in ownership; Gounaris purchased the property for $470,000 in October.
According to city property records, 104 Jay St. did not have a sprinkler system. Ted Gounaris told The Gazette last month he was not required to have a sprinkler system in the building because it predates state codes that require sprinklers.
Gounaris and Ideal Property Services could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney has convened a grand jury to investigate the fire and subpoenaed code enforcement documents related to the two buildings. The Gazette was denied access to similar documents requested through the state Freedom of Information Law.
The city cited an “ongoing criminal investigation” as the reason for not releasing the information. The Gazette has appealed the denial to the city.
City officials have declined further comment on the condition of the two buildings, citing the ongoing investigation. It is unclear when code documents regarding the two buildings would be released to the public.
Jones said he is in contact with other attorneys who are involved with cases regarding the fire.
“We are aware of other attorneys, but the collaboration process has not happened yet,” he said. “We think everyone will be joined moving forward. We will share information and work together.”