Terminally ill patriarch sues travel website VRBO after his daughters die at $8,000-a-week ‘firetrap’

The patriarch of a close-knit Maryland family who is battling a terminal disease is taking to court those who he alleges are responsible for the tragic death of his two college-age daughters.

Former federal prosecutor Lewis Wiener, who is diagnosed with prostate cancer, and his family have reportedly sued the owners of a Hamptons, New York, vacation home that burst into flames in the early morning hours of August 3 resulting in the horrifying death of the two young women, Jillian Wiener, 21, and Lindsay Wiener, 19.

“The lawyers also sued 3 Spring Lane I and 3 Spring II L.L.C.s, controlled by the [owners], and the short-term rental entities Homeaway.com and VRBO Holdings,” the East Hampton Star reported about the lawsuit.

The sisters “were asleep on the second floor of the house when the fire broke out. Their father, Lewis Wiener, 60, and mother, Alisa, 52, both escaped the fire, as did their 23-year-old brother, Zachary,” the news outlet added about the 3 a.m. inferno. Zachary reportedly escaped by jumping out of a second-floor window of the Noyac, N.Y., home.

Watch a report about the deadly, middle-of-the-night fire aired in August by CBS New York:

The survivors received treatment at a local hospital for what authorities described as non-life-threatening burns and treatment for smoke inhalation. Despite their best efforts, emergency medical personnel were unable to save the young girls who cops said were in cardiac arrest.

The family’s attorneys are also calling for the Suffolk County D.A. to pursue criminal charges; a police investigation into the incident is apparently ongoing.

Authorities have apparently yet to officially determine cause of the fatal fire.

The Hamptons on Long Island, N.Y., constitute a popular, upscale summer vacation spot. The home in question reportedly is worth about $2 million and rented for $8,000 a week.

“The family later learned the home’s outdoor kitchen, which they had tried to use in the hours before the fire, had never been inspected; the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms weren’t working, and the home had multiple violations from the town of Southampton, according to court papers,” the New York Post reported on Saturday.

If these extremely disturbing allegations turn to be accurate, there seems to be a lot of blame to go around.

“The Wieners booked through a popular website that lets vacationers rent residential properties. HomeAway sent the family an email stating the owner of the Spring Lane house said there were smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a fire extinguisher, and a first aid kit, among other safety features, the suit says,” the Post noted.

These representations are presumably why the corporate entities were named as defendants.

The town of Southampton is potentially on the hook as well. According to one of the Wiener’s attorneys, the town is potentially responsible for “creating, through deliberate indifference, a known hazard of countless rental homes within the Town of Southampton including the home in question, which the respondent knew or should have known were being rented without having passed the requisite safety inspections,” the Star noted.

“Rather than fond memories of a week’s vacation on Long Island’s east end, the Wiener family is left with a nightmare from which they cannot wake,” the legal papers filed in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., alleged.

The complaint seeks at least $75,000 in money damages (which is a baseline dollar amount necessary to establish federal court jurisdiction when parties to the lawsuit reside in different states) for pain and suffering and emotional distress.

In addition, the plaintiffs are requesting additional, unspecified compensation for economic damages —  as well as punitive damages (which generally can be assessed at three-or-more times actual damages) under the theory that it is a way for society to deter future alleged wrongdoing by those deemed responsible.

The actual payout, if any, in a personal injury case is an issue to be addressed at a court trial, if it gets that far, or in an out-of-court settlement, if there is one.

Depending on the actual findings in the event of a formal adjudication, a case of this nature could also set a precedent for the potential liability of intermediaries such as travel websites.

As with any civil suit, defendants have an opportunity to present their side of the story initially when they submit a written answer to the allegations set forth in the complaint.


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