Civil trial start delayed in deadly Loop fire

April 7, 2008 4:21:30 PM PDT
The trial is scheduled to begin later this month in civil lawsuits filed on behalf of some of the victims killed and injured in the 2003 Cook County Building fire in the Loop. Six people died and nearly two dozen others were injured when they were locked inside a smoke-filled stairwell.

The judge and lawyers in this case agreed Monday afternoon to push back - once again - the start date of this trial. It's now set to begin April 22.

There is still the possibility that it won't go to trial. Undisclosed settlement offers have been made, and discussions are ongoing even Monday. Many of the victims and their lawyers are hoping that a fair settlement can still happen and will remove the agony of reliving the nightmare at 69 West Washington.

"The trial will be a difficult experience for each of them to relive those moments and those events, so that will be difficult, but not a single one of our clients is afraid of this trial because this is a case where nobody is going to suggest that any of the plaintiffs did anything wrong," said Dan Kotin, fire victim's attorney.

Six people died and nearly two dozen others narrowly escaped death in the building on an October night four-and-a-half years ago. They were trapped in a smoke-filled stairwell when doors locked behind them.

"I can't believe I survived. I clearly remember thinking I was going to die," Jody Schneiderman, fire survivor, said in October of 2004.

Schneiderman managed to maintain a cell phone signal with 911 until she fell unconscious.

Investigations that followed the fire revealed a myriad of problems that contributed to the tragedy - communication failures on many levels, and a fire department that put its principle focus on putting out the fire instead of early search and rescue.

The upcoming trial involves wrongful death claims on behalf of three of the six people who died as well as four who were injured. And attorneys for the victims say they will attempt to show that firefighters showed a conscious disregard for those trapped in the stairwell.

"We think there is ample proof of liability against the city, but we think there is plenty of blame to go around," said Bob Clifford, fire victims' attorney.

The city acknowledges that there were communication failures but says firefighters would've spared nothing to rescue those in the stairwell if they'd known they were there.

"Had they known there were people in peril in the stairwell, they would have attempted to get them just as they did in the northwest stairwell," said Karen Seimetz, Asst. Corporation Counsel.

If settlement efforts fail and this case does go to trial, attorneys said in court Monday afternoon, the proceedings may last two months.

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