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Lawyers cite bad advice in fire suit. Bad advice cited on stairwell of county building.

Sunday, March 25, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Michael Higgins


A group of office workers had almost escaped a deadly high-rise fire in 2003, but a Chicago firefighter ordered them to climb back up into a locked stairwell that soon filled with smoke, lawyers for the victims' families alleged Friday in court.

The plaintiffs' lawyers argued that that mistake and others were so egregious that they nullify the city's normal legal immunity for deaths and injuries that occur when it sends emergency personnel to a fire.

"The peril wasn't the fire," Colin Dunn, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in Cook County Circuit Court. "The peril was sending people back up into a locked stairwell. ... The city created the snake pit here."

Lawyers sparred Friday over whether the city should be dismissed from about 20 lawsuits stemming from the fire on Oct. 17, 2003, which killed six office workers at the Cook County Administration Building at 69 W. Washington St.

Judge William Maddux heard arguments for about two hours Friday morning He said he would rule in a few days.

Cook County officials have filed a motion seeking to have the county dismissed from the lawsuits. Other defendants include the building's management company and security firms.

City officials dispute whether firefighters told fleeing office workers to go back up the stairs, so they could better fight a fire on the 12th floor.

But the city's lawyers argued Friday that in any event, the city's legal immunity for injuries that occur during fires dates to 1883.

The workers couldn't escape from the stairwell back onto the main floors of the building because the building's self-locking doors had closed behind them.


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