A pair of sibling residents of a Harlem apartment building damaged by a deadly fire have sued Edward Norton's production company, which was filming inside the structure at the time, and their landlord for alleged negligence.
A New York City firefighter named Michael R. Davidson, a father of four, was killed battling the blaze last Thursday. He was 37. He was laid to rest at a funeral on Tuesday. Hundreds of FDNY members, as well as Norton, attended.
Producers of the film, Motherless Brooklyn, had said that their crew had "immediately alerted the fire department and began alerting residents of the building" and evacuating the area themselves as soon as they noticed smoke on set.
George Cruz and sister Erica Cruz filed a lawsuit against the production company, Class 5, Inc., as well as their apartment's owner, Vincent Sollazzo-Lampkin, in New York Supreme Court on Tuesday. They stated that Erica resided in the home and that George's name was on the lease. They said the fire destroyed the unit and everything inside it. They also claimed loss of use and the right to a rent controlled/stabilized apartment.
They said Erica was inside their home at the time of the fire and at the time Motherless Brooklyn was being filmed. They said that they believed that the production company "maintained certain equipment, including highly flammable equipment in the basement" and that the fire broke out there due to their "recklessness, carelessness and negligence."
The Cruz family claims that when production company representatives "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 siblings are suing Class 5, Inc. for $7 million. The company has not responded.
Norton had said on Instagram recently that the fire appeared to have started in the basement of the building, while his crew was filming elsewhere, in a bar and another apartment. He said he was setting up a shot outside the building at the time and that his assistant director was the first to smell smoke "and it was he and others on the crew who acted decisively and quickly to try to locate the source of the smoke, evacuate cast and crew, call the fire department and then rapidly move our equipment and vehicles away so that the FDNY had clear access."
"I cannot praise the professionalism of our crew highly enough," he wrote. "Had our team not noticed the situation and responded and alerted the fire department with the speed they did, I believe the residents of the building above would have perished."
The Cruz family is also suing their landlord for $7 million. They claim he was "reckless, careless and negligent in having a building that was in hazardous condition." He has not responded.
They said the building did not have proper and working smoke detectors, did not have fire extinguishers, efficient and sufficient personnel or proper lighting in the stairwell, and was also "not in a clean slate." They said the landlord failed "to maintain the building in a safe condition" and accused him of violating "applicable laws, rules and regulations including but not limited to the New York City Fire Code."
They said that as a result of his "negligence," Erica suffered severe and permanent personal injuries including but not limited to aggravation and exacerbation of pre-existing asthma and respiratory condition" as well as "severe emotional distress" and "required medical care and attention and will require such care in the future." They said Erica had to "run for her life down several sets of dark stairs engulfed in smoke unable to breathe or see where she was going while fearful of falling with each step." They also said she now fears death and dying, suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress and has nightmares.
Meanwhile, contractors are making plans to take apart the entire building after the Department of Buildings deemed it unstable and issued an emergency declaration on Friday ordering the owner to tear it down by hand, the New York Times reported.
A spokesperson for the group said the building is not at imminent risk of collapse, but that it needs to be demolished for the "safety of the neighboring buildings and the general public," the outlet said.