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Philly Fireman’s Estate Sues Property Owners

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A warehouse blaze that killed a firefighter last year was the direct result of the reckless indifference of the building's owners to serious public risks, a widow claims in court.

Diane Neary says that, between September 2008 and April 2012, more than "60 vandals, vagrants, drug dealers, drug users, prostitutes, looters, and other individuals (collectively referred to as the 'illegal occupants') were illegally living in the York Street Property due to the Defendants' negligence and recklessness." (Parentheses in complaint.)

The complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas also charges that "these illegal occupants were at times using equipment to strip copper and other materials from the York Street Property in a manner that was capable of causing a fire."

Yechial and Nahman Lichtenstein, Toby Moskowitz, York Street Property Development, and two other holding companies were cited on at least three occasions by the city for their allegedly lax supervision of the property and therefore, "were aware or should have been aware that illegal occupants had access to the York Street Property and that the property was not properly secured against unauthorized entry," according to the complaint.

Neary says Yechial Lichtenstein also personally visited the premises several times and saw the deplorable conditions, "including holes from the floor through the roof as well as combustible materials" and "witnessed bedding and recently opened food containers in the property, demonstrating that numerous people were illegally occupying the York Street Property."

All of these conditions led to a fire breaking out at the premises on April 10, 2012, and the danger to those fighting the fast-moving blaze was exacerbated by the defendant's failure to install a sprinkler system or other fire suppression equipment, according to the complaint.

Neary says her husband, Robert, had been fighting the fire in a neighboring furniture store into which it had spread, when a wall from the warehouse collapsed and crashed through the roof of the store.

Trapped under falling bricks and other debris, Robert "suffered severe injuries, excruciating pain and suffering, and was suffocated to death," according to the complaint.

A second firefighter, Daniel Sweeney, was also killed while combating the blaze, news reports said.

The results of a grand jury investigation and a federal probe into the conflagration are expected to be released before the end of the year.

The defendant's attorney, Stephen Cozen, told CBS earlier this month that "there's no basis for liability" and our clients did everything they were required to do to protect the property."

The estate seeks damages on multiple claims of negligence, wrongful death and loss of consortium.

It is represented by Thomas Sheridan with Sheridan & Murray of Philadelphia.

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