Fatal Fire at ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Set Sparks Lawsuit

Firefighters work at the scene of a fire on March 23, 2018, that began overnight in Harlem, killing firefighter Michael Davidson of Engine Company 69. The actor Edward Norton had been shooting his film “Motherless Brooklyn” at the building, which is a former jazz club. (AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Last week’s deadly fire on the set of actor Edward Norton’s film “Motherless Brooklyn” could add some major liabilities onto the budget, with a survivor of the blaze and her brother bringing a $14 million lawsuit Tuesday.

The five-alarm fire that killed one New York City firefighter erupted on March 22 in the basement of 77th St. Nicholas Ave., where Norton had been shooting an adaptation of a novel with the name name by writer Jonathan Lethem.

Two of the building’s tenants, Erica Cruz and her brother George, brought negligence claims Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court against property owner Vincent Sollazzo and film producer Class 5 Inc.

“Every fire is preventable,” their attorney David Jaroslawicz said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “God didn’t send down a bolt of lightning, but this was particularly egregious because there was a movie being filmed there.”

Describing the owner and producer “reckless, careless and negligent,” the lawsuit lists a long line of hazards that allegedly contributed to the tragedy: The building allegedly had no smoke detectors or fire extinguishers, and the film company allegedly kept “highly flammable equipment” in the basement where the fire started.

“When representatives of Class 5, Inc. became aware of the fire, they did not warn the tenants in the building; in fact, they misled the tenants into believing there had been a fire that had been extinguished,” the 13-page complaint states.

FDNY firefighter Michael Davidson of Engine Company 69 was killed after a massive fire broke out at a building in the Harlem section of New York on March 22, 2018. A 15-year department veteran, Davidson is survived by a wife and four children. (Photo courtesy of New York City Fire Department)

Erica Cruz notes that she is asthmatic. When the fire broke out, she had to “run for her life down several sets of dark stairs engulfed in smoke,” the complaint states.

Afraid to fall with each step, Cruz claims that she could not breathe or see where she was going. She says that she had to be hospitalized and still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Cruz family says that the fire “completely destroyed” their apartment.

The siblings demand $7 million each in punitive damages for seven civil counts.

Set for release next year, “Motherless Brooklyn” is a crime drama following a private detective played by Norton, who is also directing. His co-stars include Bruce Willis, Bobby Cannavale and Leslie Mann.

Producer Class 5 Films does not have its contact information publicly listed, but Norton released a comment last week on the tragedy to Variety.

“We watched firsthand with astonishment as they charged into the smoke to make sure all were safely out and then fought to contain the blaze and prevent it from spreading, putting their lives on the line as they do every day,” he told the magazine.

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