Lawsuit over fatal fire goes to Connecticut's highest court

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Supreme Court is taking up the question of whether Bridgeport officials can be sued in connection with a fire at a public housing complex that killed a mother and her three children in 2009.

Tiana Black, her 4-year-old twin daughters and her 5-year-old son died in the early morning fire in their apartment at the P.T. Barnum complex, which is run by the city’s Housing Authority.

Black’s mother, Twila Williams, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging city officials failed to inspect the apartment and there were fire code violations that may have slowed the family’s response in fleeing the fire.

Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Mary Sommer dismissed claims in the lawsuit against city officials, ruling city officials were immune. One exemption to immunity would be if officials’
failure to inspect the building was a “reckless disregard for health and safety,” but the judge said there was no evidence of that.

But the state Appellate Court reversed Sommer’s decision, saying it was up to a jury to decide.

Williams’ lawyer wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court that the city fire marshal did not inspect the housing complex every year as required by state law.

Court records indicate Fire Marshal William Cosgrove and Fire Chief Brian Rooney did not believe the P.T. Barnum apartments had to be inspected annually. The apartments were not on the list of multifamily homes provided by the tax assessor to the fire marshal every year, because the complex is not on city tax rolls, according to court documents.

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