NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A Stamford official on Monday rejected allegations by an attorney for the father of three girls killed in a Christmas morning house fire that the Connecticut city failed to ensure safe conditions as the house was being renovated.
Richard Emery, the attorney for Matthew Badger, notified the city Friday that he plans to sue Stamford. Badger's daughters, 9-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace, and the girls' grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, were killed in the fire at the girls' mother's house.
The notice says Stamford failed to require the installation of working smoke detectors or a functional fire alarm system or safe living conditions.
"They allowed a fire trap to exist under their supervision with children in it," Emery said Friday. "Consequently, our claim is they're liable for the damages to the estates of these kids."
Joseph Capalbo, the city's director of legal affairs, noted that a lawsuit had not yet been filed.
"However, it is our position that if and when a lawsuit is filed, the city will vigorously defend against the claims," Capalbo said. "While we believe the allegations against the city and its employees are baseless and without merit, we are mindful of the tragic loss suffered by the Badger family and continue to offer our deepest heartfelt sympathies."
The mother, Madonna Badger, and her friend, Michael Borcina, escaped. Authorities have said the blaze began after Borcina, a contractor working on the house, discarded fireplace ashes in or near an entry, close to the trash.
Emery said the lawsuit would probably be filed in a month or so. He has said Matthew Badger is also considering a lawsuit against Borcina.
"Litigation and the allegations that go with it are to be anticipated in this type of tragic situation," said Eugene Riccio, Borcina's attorney.
The notice also contends Stamford officials failed to require appropriate licenses or certifications from Borcina, failed to review and require complete plans for the construction work before issuing permits and didn't follow up on failed inspections "despite notice that the home was a hazard to the children's health and safety and which further created an unsafe and dangerous environment at the home."
The notice, which called the house a "plain fire hazard," said the city failed to stop construction and deny occupancy of the home after observing that the performance of work was beyond that authorized by the permits.
The notice also cites "the intentional spoliation of evidence/demolition" of the house a day after the fire. A fire official said at the time the house was torn down because it was unsafe.
A city official has said building inspectors last examined the work in July and did not find any problems. The house was awaiting a final inspection, an official has said.
There were plans for hard-wired smoke alarms, but the alarms had not been hooked up, officials have said.
The fire led to a bill pending in the legislature requiring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in most residences. Stamford officials have pressed state lawmakers to pass the bill.
The state building code requires smoke detectors in new home construction and that smoke detectors be added as part of most residential additions or interior alterations, according to Joseph V. Cassidy, acting state building inspector.