SPRING VALLEY - The sons of the 79-year-old man who died in the 2021 Evergreen Court Home for Adults inferno filed a lawsuit against the facility and the employees who were charged in relation to his death.
The lawsuit claims the adult home and employees caused Oliver Hueston's death through recklessness, negligence and being poorly trained. The sons are seeking a financial award, including punitive damages and legal fees, for their father's death and emotional and psychological pain.
Hueston, 79, died from injuries suffered on March 23, 2021, when flames destroyed the massive adult home at 65 Lafayette St. He had three sons.
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Spring Valley Firefighter Lt. Jared Lloyd, 35, father of two young sons, died when part of the building collapsed on him as he and dozens of firefighters rescued 112 infirmed and elderly residents. Lloyd's mother also has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Spring Valley, the adult facility, its owners, and its employees.
Attorneys for Colin and David Hueston filed the lawsuit Tuesday in state Supreme Court in New City.
Hueston's lawyers say the lawsuit names the Evergreen Court adult home, including the owners, Rabbis Nathaniel Sommer and son Aaron Sommer, then-Evergreen Court director Denise Kerr and former employee Emmanuel Lema.
Evergreen Court is one of several adult homes owned by the Schoenberger family of Monsey and Lakewood, New Jersey. The family owns New Golden Acres Adult Home at 11 Prospect St. in Spring Valley.
"We have filed this lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Hueston's estate for the unimaginable pain and suffering he endured during the blaze, as well as for the significant loss his estate sustained as a result of his passing," Glenn Nick, a partner at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo, said in a statement. "In addition to seeking monetary damages, we proudly represent the estate in seeking justice for the late Mr. Hueston."
The lawsuit describes roles of employees
The lawsuit details the roles employees and ownership played leading up to the fatal fire, which brought dozens of firefighters to the village's Hill Section neighborhood.
The fire erupted after the Sommers finished cleansing the facility's kitchen and ovens for the Passover holiday with a blow torch with a 20-pound propane tank. The building caught fire after they left to cleanse the ovens and kitchen at Golden Acres.
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The Rockland District Attorney's Office is prosecuting the Sommers on charges, including manslaughter for the deaths of Lloyd and Hueston; reckless endangerment, negligent homicide; arson; and assault for the injuries suffered by residents and firefighters. The Sommers have pleaded not guilty.
"It is believed that these individuals used both a blowtorch and ignited coal embers in the kitchen at this facility, which caused the fire," Nick said.
The District Attorney's Office offers that theory for the cause of the fire. The criminal complaint states the Sommers did not have an operating permit to use the lit torch; did not maintain a pre-work check report; did not post signs or warnings that a lit torch was being used; and did not use any shielding to prevent sparks, slag or heat from igniting combustibles.
The attorney for the Sommers, Jacob Laufer, declined comment Wednesday on the lawsuit. Laufer has argued the Sommers did not knowingly act recklessly under legal criteria set by the New York State Court of Appeals and therefore the manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide counts should have been dismissed.
The legal action argues Lema acted recklessly by directing the county dispatching unit to turn the automatic fire alarm system to test mode during this cleansing to avoid false alarms. The lawsuit claims the directive slowed down the response to the fire, allowing it to grow in intensity and severity.
Lema, of Pomona, had faced misdemeanor counts of second-degree criminal impersonation and second-degree obstructing governmental administration; he left another employee's name with 44 Control. No one at the facility called back to put the system back online. Lema's case was resolved when prosecutors agreed to a non-plea adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, meaning the charges were dropped when Lema stayed out of trouble for a period of time.
The Hueston lawsuit names Kerr on the grounds she hired the Sommers to cleanse the facility even though prosecutors claimed she knew the rabbis lacked the proper permits and failed to take proper precautions. She also, the complaint states, was responsible for the training and supervising of the Sommers and Lema. The Schoenbergers hired Kerr, a former state adult home administrator.
Both Kerr and Lema testified before the grand jury that indicted the Sommers.
The attorneys for the Schoenbergers and Lema didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit by Hueston's family. The Schoenbergers have not been charged criminally.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lohudlegal.
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This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Evergreen Court fire lawsuit: Sons sue facility, others over death