Philadelphia row house fire victims’ families sue city agencies

January 12, 2024

Legal action against city authorities following fatal fire

Two years after a devastating fire in a Philadelphia row house claimed the lives of 12 individuals, families of the victims have initiated legal proceedings against the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the Department of Human Services.

According to AP News, the federal lawsuit, filed on Friday (5th January), accuses the city agencies and various officials of failing to ensure safe living conditions, thereby violating the victims’ civil rights.

Allegations of unsafe housing conditions

The lawsuit specifically points to the property at the heart of the tragedy, a four-bedroom apartment in a brick duplex owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

It alleges that the agency was aware of the overcrowding and unsafe conditions of the residence.

Among the cited deficiencies are the lack of a fire escape, non-functional smoke detectors, and other absent fire safety features.

Response from city officials

In light of the ongoing litigation, Mayor Cherelle Parker’s spokesperson, Joe Grace, has withheld comment.

Similarly, attempts to seek responses from the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s spokespersons were made on Friday, but no immediate comments were received.

Details of the lawsuit’s claims

The lawsuit draws attention to the visits made by a Human Services social worker and the housing authority staff in December 2021, a month prior to the fire.

It claims that the social worker observed inoperative smoke detectors but did not fulfil the promise to return with functional units.

Additionally, housing authority records are alleged to falsely indicate that checks were made on the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, confirming their operability.

The tragedy and its aftermath

The fatal fire, which occurred in the early hours at Unit B of 869 N. Third St., was reportedly started by a Christmas tree.

It resulted in the deaths of three women and nine children, who comprised the majority of the 14 residents in the apartment.

Described as the city’s deadliest fire in over a century, the incident has raised serious concerns regarding the safety standards in public housing.

Demands in the lawsuit

Seeking monetary compensation, the lawsuit also demands that all public housing units in the city undergo inspections and tests to ensure the presence of working smoke detectors.

Ongoing legal developments

A separate negligence lawsuit related to the fire was previously filed in March in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

According to a spokesperson for the Kline and Specter law firm, this case is still pending and currently in the discovery phase.

FSJA Comment

This lawsuit highlights critical issues in public housing safety and the responsibilities of city agencies.

The tragic loss of life in the Philadelphia row house fire has brought to light the alleged negligence in maintaining safety standards, particularly in overcrowded living conditions.

The legal action taken by the victims’ families not only seeks justice for their loss but also aims to enforce stricter safety measures in public housing.

The outcome of this lawsuit could set a precedent for how housing authorities nationwide address safety concerns and the enforcement of regulations.

The emphasis on functional smoke detectors and regular safety inspections underlines the importance of proactive measures in preventing similar tragedies.

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