New lawsuit filed over deadly Jay Street fire

Deadline to file suits against the city has passed, for most victims
The burned out shell of 104 Jay Street Sunday, March 8, 2015.
The burned out shell of 104 Jay Street Sunday, March 8, 2015.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Five more people who survived the March 2015 Jay Street fire filed a lawsuit this week against the building’s owner, claiming underlying dangerous conditions in the building before the fire.

The lawsuit follows similar claims made by the estates of those killed in the fire and by other survivors. All of the lawsuits have targeted the owner and building manager.

The new suit also follows others in not suing the city, though several people affected by the fire preserved their rights to sue the municipality early on.

The fire on March 6, 2015, killed four people, hospitalized seven others and displaced about 60 more. Investigators ruled the cause accidental, finding it started in a fourth-floor apartment at 104 Jay St., consumed that building and spread to neighboring 100-102 Jay St.

Several tenants in the two buildings said the structures hadn’t been properly maintained and that the alarms and sprinkler systems did not function.

The latest lawsuit claims property owner Ted Gounaris Inc. and manager Ideal Property Services Inc. left the property “in a dangerous, hazardous and defective condition.” The five survivors also allege conditions “constituted a nuisance and trap,” in that the building was not properly inspected, maintained and repaired.

The complainants, who are seeking unspecified damages, include Ronald Crandall, Jr. He suffered extensive injuries in the blaze, including deep burns on his feet. In an interview with The Daily Gazette three weeks after the fire, he recounted his escape, telling how he ran across a burning hallway floor.

“I ended up on the ground burning,” Crandall said then. “I saw the flames shooting up. I pulled myself together and managed to run down a couple of flights of stairs and collapsed in the lobby.”

Also filing suit were survivors Stephanie Acorn, Robert L. Reisinger, Marilynn Reisinger and John Sellie Jr.

Their attorney, John Seebold, could not be reached for comment. Attorney James Lagios, who is representing the building owner and property manager, refused to comment on the suit, other than to say that he and his clients had already been in communication with Seebold.

The city Code Enforcement department inspected all 20 units at 104 Jay St. the day before the fire, citing the owner for an expired fire alarm system certification, officials have said.

For those who filed paperwork to preserve their right to sue the city for damages related to the fire, the state imposes two deadlines, according the New York Courts website. Most suits must be filed within one year and 90 days of the incident. In the Jay Street fire, that deadline passed over the summer. Suits claiming wrongful death, however, have a two-year deadline from the date of the death, which is still about five weeks away in the Jay Street case.

“It’s not legally impossible for somebody to go down that road right now,” city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said on Thursday. “But I certainly don’t expect anything to come up.”

An ongoing investigation by the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office is probing issues beyond the already-settled question of the fire’s cause. The city has cited that investigation as a reason to keep from the public code enforcement documents related to the fire. Freedom of Information Law requests by The Daily Gazette have been denied, for instance.

Lagios this week confirmed his document requests have also been held up by the investigation.

District Attorney Robert Carney said Thursday he expects to be in a position to speak about the investigation further prior to the fire’s two-year anniversary in March.

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