Jury Awards Black Sunday Firefighters $183M in Damages


New York, NY, February 22, 2016 – Today a Bronx jury found both the City of New York and the landlord responsible for the tragedy that occurred on January 23, 2005, a day that will forever be known as “Black Sunday” in the FDNY. The jury awarded damages to five firefighters and their families totaling $183 million, and assigning liability of 80% to the City and 20% to the landlord.

On Black Sunday, Brooklyn firefighter Richard Sclafani died when overcome by smoke at a private house fire. On that same day, five firefighters and a Lieutenant became trapped in a Bronx apartment that was consumed by flames and were forced to jump five stories from a top-floor window to avoid being burned to death. Lt. Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew were killed by the impact with the ground. Firefighter Joseph DiBernardo, whose heels and feet were crushed by the impact, died six years later from the physical and psychological toll of his injuries, which required heavy doses of daily medication. Firefighters Gene Stolowski, Jeff Cool and Brendan Cawley survived the tragedy, but continue to suffer from life-changing and permanent injuries. The five firefighters and their families were represented by trial attorney Vito Cannavo of Sullivan Papain Block McManus Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. The family of Lt. Curtis Meyran settled its case before the verdict.

The families of the deceased firefighters and the surviving firefighters brought lawsuits against the owner of the building for allowing the construction of illegal partition walls in the apartment, which blocked access to the fire escape. They also sued the City of New York for failing to provide firefighters with personal safety ropes, which would have enabled the men to safely self-evacuate from the burning building. Five years earlier, the City had removed the personal safety ropes from FDNY gear and never replaced them.

Lead partner Vito Cannavo stated: “There are two important issues in this case. First, it demonstrates that a governmental entity is not immune from liability when it fails to provide its firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our citizens, with proper safety equipment to fulfill their duties. Second, this case reaffirms clearly that landlords are to be held accountable for turning a blind eye to unsafe conditions that exist in their buildings.”

Sullivan Papain Block McManus Coffinas & Cannavo P.C., which serves as General Counsel to the UFA, is recognized as one of New York’s premiere personal injury law firms and, for over 40 years, has been actively engaged in helping injured New York City firefighters and the families of firefighters who have given their lives in the performance of their duties.

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