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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

City, Alderman Still On The Hook For Fire That Killed 10 Children In Little Village, Judge Says

While attorneys for the family lauded the judge's decision as a "significant ruling," a city spokeswoman said the city plans to appeal.

A judge dismissed a city's motion for immunity in wrongful death lawsuit where 10 children died in Little Village fire in August 2018.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE — A Cook County judge rejected the city’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by family members of 10 children who died in a Little Village coach house fire in 2018.

Judge Daniel T. Gillespie denied a motion to toss the wrongful death lawsuit against the city and Ald. George Cardenas (12th).

Gillespie ruled June 19 it’s up to a jury to determine if the alleged failure of city and Cardenas to crack down on the building owner led to the children’s deaths.

Attorney Kevin O’Connor, who represents the mother of three of the children, argued the city and alderman should be held accountable because there were 39 violations at the building and the city allowed people to continue to live there. 

“We are excited to move forward … . The city tried to escape liability as they have in the past,” O’Connor said Monday.

The decision on the motion comes nearly two years after the fatal fire, the city’s deadliest in more than 40 years. Ten children between the ages of 16 and 3 months died Aug. 26, 2018, at the coach house in the 2200 block of South Sacramento Avenue.

The dead included 3-month-old Amayah Almaraz, 3-year-old Alanni Ayala, 5-year-old Gialanni Ayala, 5-year-old Ariel Garcia, 10-year-old Giovanni Ayala, 11-year-old Xavier Contreras, 13-year-old Nathan Contreras, 14-year-old Adrian Hernandez, 14-year-old Cesar Contreras and 16-year-old Victor Mendoza.

Months before the fire, the city’s Department of Buildings inspected the building following a complaint from a tenant.

The inspector issued citations for two electrical violations, one for grounding in the front of the building and one for an illegal electrical cord going from the front building to the coach house.

According to city officials, the violations from the first inspection warranted Circuit Court enforcement, but the infractions were not sufficient to force tenants to vacate the building at the time. 

In March 2019, family members sued the city, Cardenas and the building owner.

Attorney Isabel Zubillaga Box, whose firm represents the family of six of the 10 children, agreed with the judge’s ruling.

“We think the judge got it right … . We are just ready to work on this case and get some justice for these children who died in the fire,” Zubillaga Box said.

Kathy Fieweger, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said the city was “disappointed in the ruling and plan[s] to file a motion to reconsider.”

Cardenas declined comment.

In May, the city announced plans to legalize new coach houses and in-law apartments. 

O’Connor said the city needs to be held accountable and to take stock of other coach houses and in-law apartments that have been constructed in the block where the fire occurred.

“You look around other parts of the city and it’s never allowed. You look in [Little Village] and they are allowing people to literally live on top of each other … in illegal in-law apartments,” O’Connor said.

The next court date is scheduled for July 28. 

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