The relatives of five people killed in a Baltimore house fire last year sued a landlord and the city housing authority last week, claiming failure to fix a faulty furnace or install smoke detectors led to the fatal blaze.
Nancy Worrell, 55, was killed with four young children in the October fire. The Housing Authority of Baltimore City was paying a portion of the rent on the home through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and the lawsuit contends that housing authority inspectors should have forced landlord Paul Stanton to fix a malfunctioning furnace in the home and install smoke detectors.
The plaintiffs are collectively seeking more than $50 million for the wrongful-death claim.
The deaths resulted from "negligence of the owner for not maintaining a safe and operable furnace," said a spokesman for the family. "More than that, we believe the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has a responsibility under federal regulations and state regulations to make sure smoke detectors are installed, operable and working," he said.
According to the lawsuit, Stanton was informed numerous times, beginning in January 2012, of the "constantly malfunctioning" furnace, which "did not heat the house," yet it was never fixed. A housing authority inspector checked the home in January 2012 and gave an "inconclusive" rating to the quality of the Northeast Baltimore home's heating equipment, rather than a pass or fail rating, the lawsuit contends. The home was never reinspected after the inconclusive rating, according to the lawsuit, and in frustration, Nancy Worrell had the furnace assessed and was advised it needed to be replaced.
Baltimore fire investigators later determined the fire was caused by combustible materials stored too close to the furnace, a determination that Pettit challenged. The Fire Department's investigation concluded that the home did not have smoke detectors. "That's why it was impossible to get out in a reasonable time," the suit alleges.
A Fire Department spokesman said the fire was so hot the home's front door bent inward, and that he was surprised anyone had survived the blaze. The home was destroyed.