Wapner Newman Files Suit in Erie Group Home Fire Deaths

July 11, 2011

David E. Sternberg and Steven G. Wigrizer, partners in the law firm Wapner Newman, have filed a negligence suit against the Barber National Institute on behalf of the estates of the two residents who died in an April fire at the Millcreek Township group home. The men, Guy Lombard and Jeff DiLoreto, were killed in a fire begun when an employee of the Millcreek Township group home fell asleep without extinguishing a cigarette, sparking the deadly fire.

“Without question, these men’s deaths, and the pain they suffered before passing, were avoidable,” Attorney Sternberg said today. “If staffing and safety procedures were followed, these two men would still be alive.”

The suit filed on behalf of the deceased residents’ estates seeks damages, citing the residents’ severe and permanent injuries before their deaths, including fear, pain, disfigurement and mental distress. The Barber National Institute and the employee are named as defendants in the suit filed January 23, 2012, in the Erie County Court of Common Pleas.

The suit contends the deadly fire was sparked when Julia Miaolajcza, the sole caretaker on duty, failed to extinguish a cigarette prior to falling asleep. The night of the fire was her first night working at the residence, and she told investigators she was sleeping when the fire began – a direct violation of the Institute’s policies. After a fire alarm woke her, she was only able to remove one man from the home, while a firefighter rescued a second of the home’s four residents. Messrs. Lombard and DiLoreto made it to an exit, but were unable to escape.

“This is a case of ‘if onlys,’” Attorney Wigrizer continued. “If only the Institute had done a better job of training its employees, if only its employee had followed the prohibition on smoking on the premises, if only the caretaker was on alert instead of asleep, if only the house was better designed to allow for an escape, there would be four survivors instead of two.”

In closing, Attorney Sternberg said, “These two men were found just inside a glass patio door, so close to safety but unable to save themselves. That was the responsibility of the group home, which failed these men and their families.”