On March 5, 2018, a devastating apartment fire changed the lives of Bronx residents forever. Finally, the fire victims and their families have been successful in receiving financial compensation for their injuries, financial losses, and lost loved ones. With Ronemus & Vilensky representing ten of the apartment residents – including two tenants who lost their lives – $12 million was awarded as part of a complex and challenging lawsuit.
The Hoffman Avenue Fire
In the early morning hours of March 5, a fire broke out in a first-floor apartment in the five-story building located at 2381 Hoffman Avenue in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City. The fire quickly spread, causing extensive smoke and heat damage to units located throughout the building. The fire also killed two of the building’s residents, a fourteen year-old boy and a 41 year-old man. Both of the deaths occurred on the second floor of the apartment building. Two other residents suffered severe burns, and two responding firefighters were also injured in the blaze.
As with similar fires in New York City, open doors led to the quick spread of flames and smoke. As tenants rushed to evacuate, some of the unit’s doors were left open, sending flames into the stairwell of the building.
In their response, the American Red Cross assisted 20 residents who were left homeless by the fire.
Investigation of the Fire
Initial investigations of the fire conducted by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) indicated that the origins of the fire did not appear suspicious. Subsequent investigations would reveal new information.
After an accelerant was found in the first-floor unit where the fire originated, investigators focused their attention on building resident Edward Garcia, a 47 year old man. Police sources indicated that the unit occupied by Mr. Garcia was frequented by drug users over the years. Surveillance video obtained during the investigation showed someone running out of the building on the night of the fire; this individual was eventually identified as Mr. Garcia.
In 2021, Mr. Garcia and his brother Charles were arrested for murder and arson related to the Hoffman Avenue fire. It is believed that Edward and his brother doused the unit’s kitchen with a flammable liquid, disconnected a gas line, then set the liquid on fire before fleeing the scene. It is believed that the brothers wanted to hurt two other residents of the first-floor unit and to retaliate against the landlord for filing an eviction notice on the pair.
During the investigation, fire officials noted that there were no operable smoke alarms in the building.
A Challenging Legal Case
Surviving building residents and their families sought the legal representation of the Law Offices of Ronemus & Vilensky, a firm with a winning track record in securing financial compensation for New York City fire victims.
Believing that the fire was caused by negligent circumstances, including the lack of self-closing fire doors and the absence of operable smoke alarms or other working alarm systems, attorney Robert Vilensky had to change legal tactics once the true origins of the fire were revealed and Mr. Garcia was identified as the arsonist.
Prior to the incident, the landlord of the Hoffman Avenue building filed an eviction notice against the two Garcia brothers. Police reports and complaints suggested that the Garcias dealt drugs out of their unit as well as contributed to debris in the common areas of the building.
Attorneys for the families filed suit against the landlord, alleging that building negligence and the slow-moving eviction process based on years of resident complaints were to blame for victims’ injuries and financial losses. Ultimately, Ronemus & Vilensky were able to settle the case for $12 million.