FDNY’s actions established duty

Williamsburg warehouse burned to the ground just minutes after FDNY left the scene. A Williamsburg warehouse owned by Recall Corporation and located on the Brooklyn waterfront at 5 North 11th Street burned to the ground in the early hours of the morning on January 31, 2015. The New York City Fire Department had responded to a fire alarm at approximately 4:36 a.m. and found a fire ablaze on storage shelves inside the warehouse. The FDNY, believing that the fire had been controlled by the warehouse’s sprinkler system, turned off the main water valve to stop the deluge and prevent flooding. The FDNY deemed the warehouse safe for reentry and left the scene. Just minutes after the FDNY left, a second fire appeared, triggering another fire alarm at the warehouse at 6:32 a.m. With no water available to supply the sprinkler system, the fire quickly spread, destroying the warehouse and its contents. The warehouse contained government records from entities including the State court system, the City’s Administration for Children’s Services, and the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Recall Corporation and its insurance company Zurich American Insurance Company sued the City. The City moved to dismiss the complaint. Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Chambers denied the motion and the City appealed.

The Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed and refused to dismiss the complaint. The Appellate Division ruled that the City could be held responsible for the damages because FDNY personnel responded to the fire, assumed control over the fire by shutting off the main water valve, and deemed the warehouse safe for reentry just minutes before the fire reignited. Under these circumstances, the City had created a special relationship by the manner in which the FDNY took control at the scene. The Appellate Division sent the case back to the lower court for trial.

Zurich Am. Ins. Co. v. City of N.Y., 111 N.Y.S.3d 38 (2nd Dep’t 2019).

By: Julie Tortora (Julie is a New York Law School student, Class of 2021.)



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