Settlement reached in Jay Street fire lawsuits

Property owners to pay 13 plaintiffs $1 million
Candles that honored those killed at 100-104 Jay St. lie on the ground where the buildings once stood in August 2015.
Candles that honored those killed at 100-104 Jay St. lie on the ground where the buildings once stood in August 2015.

SCHENECTADY — A settlement has been reached between the victims and surviving family members of the fatal Jay Street fire and those accused of leaving the property in a “dangerous, hazardous and defective condition.”

An agreement filed in Schenectady County Court on May 23 reveals property owner Ted Gounaris, Inc. (TGI) has agreed to pay 13 plaintiffs $1 million in connection with the deadly 2015 blaze that left four dead, seven hospitalized and 60 people homeless. 

Glenville-based property manager Ideal Property Services Inc. (IPS) was also listed as a defendant in court documents.

The amount, the full limit of TGI’s liability policy, is to be split among the plaintiffs, with the precise amounts to be determined through a binding arbitration process. 

If split equally without legal fees, the amount would total $76,923 for each party, each of whom is prohibited from filing a claim to recoup those fees against the other.

Lawyers representing IPS and TGI did not return phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

As part of the deal, IPS and TGI will bear no cost associated with binding arbitration, and the plaintiffs have agreed to refrain from perusing future fire-related litigation against them.

The parties also acknowledge the agreement does not constitute an admission of liability.

Investigators ruled the cause of the blaze accidental, finding the fire started in a fourth-floor apartment at 104 Jay St., consumed that building and spread to neighboring 100-102 Jay St.

Plaintiffs included the estates of three residents who were killed — Robert Lee Thomas, Jr., Berenices “Bernice” Suarez and Jermaine Deon Allen — as well as survivors Jesse. Pappalau, Jonathan Moya-Perez, Stephanie Acorn, Robert L. Reisinger, Marilynn Reisinger, John Sellie, Jr. and Ronald Crandall, Jr.

Also included was Esmeralda Jewelry, Ravena Holdings, LLC. and Utica First Insurance Company, the insurer of nearby Executive Lounge, which was damaged and remains vacant. 

Numerous parties have been faulted in the aftermath, including two charged directly in connection with the incident.

Building manager Jason Sacks pleaded guilty to four counts of criminally negligent homicide last April after admitting he failed to maintain the building’s fire detection system and was sentenced to between 1 and 3 years in state prison.

Former building inspector Kenneth Tyree, who inspected the building the day before the fire, was acquitted on all charges related to the blaze, but convicted of lying on his job application. 

The city has also been formally faulted. 

A Schenectady County grand jury report released last April determined “numerous failures” by the city Code Enforcement Office “directly contributed” to the deaths and injuries.

Firefighters reported violations, but the pleas were ignored, according to the report. Codes employees had testified that they received the reports, but the grand jury found no system in place to log, track or ensure issues had been addressed, according to the report.

The city has since taken efforts to remedy those issues, including placing the building inspector and the Code Enforcement Bureau under the authority of the public safety commissioner.

While estates and survivors filed notices of potential suits against the city, lawsuits against Schenectady failed to materialize and the standard deadline has passed.

“There were some claims filed against the city that we denied, and they never turned into a lawsuit,” city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said on Tuesday.

Falotico said owners of the two demolished buildings were required to pay demolition costs. The city owns one lot, and the remaining owner will soon sign over the second in lieu of paying those costs, he said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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