Wife of Chicago firefighter killed in fall files suit

Lawsuit alleges the owner was negligent because the building had an open elevator shaft, gaping holes in the floor and no permits

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The family of Chicago firefighter Daniel Capuano filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against the owner of the building where Capuano suffered fatal injuries during a fall down an unprotected elevator shaft.

Julie Capuano, the firefighter's wife, filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Anilroshi, the company that owns the two-story brick warehouse at 9213 S. Baltimore Ave. Daniel Capuano, 42, died Monday, a few hours after he plunged down an open, unprotected elevator shaft as he and a partner searched through thick smoke for people and the source of the fire, the Chicago Fire Departmentsaid.

The lawsuit alleges the owner was negligent because the building had an open elevator shaft, gaping holes in the floor and no permits for major work at the warehouse, in violation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration and city standards.

"The defendant blatantly violated OSHA regulations and city of Chicago regulations," Capuano family attorney Robert Napleton said. "It cost a world-class father, husband, son and friend to many his life."

The lawsuit was filed at the same time as a court hearing regarding the city's request to demolish the building. A Cook County judge ruled the building will remain standing while inspectors complete investigative reports and document evidence.

The city on Tuesday filed an emergency motion for demolishing the building, the day after Capuano died from injuries he suffered in a fall down an unprotected elevator shaft at the warehouse. The city alleges that renovation work at the building was being done without the appropriate permits and said the structure is a threat to public safety.

A Buildings Department report outlined several alleged violations and dangerous conditions, including unauthorized work at the elevator shaft where Capuano fell. The city also is seeking as much as $1,000 per day for every day the owners kept the building in an unsafe condition.

The building's status was put on hold after Cook County Circuit Associate Judge Pamela Hughes Gillespie ruled that all parties have until Jan. 2 to complete inspections at the building. Napleton said he also filed an emergency motion with the court, granted by another judge, seeking to preserve the building and any physical evidence at the scene.

Napleton said he wants to make sure that any video surveillance, computer evidence or materials at the building are protected and representatives for the family are given access to the warehouse to document its condition.

Jatin Patel, manager of Anilroshi, did not appear at the Daley Center for the hearing, but his attorney, Patrick Cummings, told the judge that no violations or citations had been issued at the property since renovations began at the building.

"They inherited a piece of property that was in horrible, horrible condition, and they were renovating it with everyone's notice and approval," Cummings told the judge.

The building's previous owner, Jackie Procissi, who with her husband sold the warehouse to Anilroshi, said earlier this week the elevator was in "perfect working condition" at the time of the sale and that the warehouse had passed inspections when they owned it. Anilroshi bought the building for $125,000 in October 2014.

City attorney Kimberly Roberts reiterated the city's position that unauthorized work was being performed at the site.

"Permits were issued for the building, but the work that was being done was beyond the scope of the permits," Roberts said.

Cummings said his client has been cooperating with fire and city investigators since Capuano died.

State Farm, insurer for the building, filed a temporary restraining order to prevent immediate demolition. A structural engineer inspected the building and determined it was not in danger of imminent collapse.

The warehouse where Capuano fell had "multiple floor openings on the 1st and 2nd floors, none of which are barricaded. The elevator system has been demolished, including the masonry shaft enclosure from basement to 2nd floor leaving the shaft open," according to the Buildings Department report.

The report also listed problems with the structural integrity of the load-bearing beams and columns, exposed electrical wires, staircases without handrails, and other masonry, plumbing and heating problems.

The judge voiced concern about the open holes at the property.

"I'm not leaving a property with gaping holes in there where one fireman's already been killed, I'm not just leaving it that way," Hughes Gillespie said. "Heaven forbid there's another fire in that building. I want those holes covered. It's as easy at that."

But she said inspectors for the city, insurance company and Capuano's attorney will be allowed inside to inspect the property before any repairs are made. The property is boarded and padlocked. Entry into the property will be coordinated with the Fire Department, city and the owners.

The Fire Department said the exact source of the small, smoky fire that drew firefighters to the scene remains under investigation as officials await tests on construction materials inside the brick building. But Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said "it's definitely not arson."

Langford said the fire was quite small but smoldering produced a thick smoke that made it difficult for Capuano and other firefighters to see inside. The building was reportedly being converted into a grocery store.

The Cook County state's attorney's office said it will review the case when reports are completed for possible criminal prosecution related to Capuano's death.

The Buildings Department issued permits in September for the building, but the owner did not receive a permit for removing or demolishing an elevator, officials said.

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