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Action may mean Mystic Fire lawsuit nearing settlement

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published December 08. 2012 4:00AM

Mystic - The estate of a man killed in a 2005 apartment house fire on East Main Street has removed the Mystic Fire District as a defendant from its lawsuit, an action that usually indicates the two sides have agreed to settle.

Court records show that the fire district offered in June to pay $200,000 to the estate of Jose Antonio Chillogallo to settle the case. But Gil Ward, chairman of the fire district's executive committee, said this week that neither its insurance company, the Volunteer Fire Insurance Service, which is covering any damages, nor its attorney had informed him of the settlement amount.

The suit had charged that the fire district and Fire Chief Fritz Hilbert, acting as the fire marshal, failed to conduct an annual inspection as required by law and did not warn the tenants of the risk of living in the building that had numerous fire and building code violations. It alleged that this negligence led to Chillogallo's death.

Peter Clark, the Stamford attorney representing the insurance company, said Friday that because of a confidentiality agreement between the two parties, he could not disclose any information.

Before the fire district had offered to settle the case for $200,000, Chillogallo's estate had proposed a $350,000 settlement.

The attorney for the estate did not respond to a phone call about the fire district withdrawal this week.

The lawsuit is not over, though, as New London Attorney C. George Kanabis, who owned the apartment where Chillogallo died, remains a defendant. Earlier this year, Kanabis' attorney offered to pay $300,000 to settle the case. A trial is slated to begin Feb. 14.

Chillogallo and Gerry Sanderson were killed in the Aug. 4, 2005, fire at 19 East Main St. The 64-year-old Chillogallo, a native of Ecuador, and Sanderson, 42, worked at Bravo Bravo, the restaurant across the street owned by Kanabis family.

An investigation by the state fire marshal's office found that the fire was accidental and caused by the "careless use of smoking materials" by Sanderson. The building has since been torn down.

Chillogallo's estate sued the district, Fire Chief Fritz Hilbert Kanabis, and Sanderson's estate, but later withdrew the latter party from the suit.

The suit alleges that there were numerous health and safety violations in the building that Kanabis knew about or should have known about. This included smoke detectors that didn't work and renovations he made to the building without permits or certificates of occupancy.

The suit also alleges the building lacked the required two exits from the second floor where Chillogallo lived, that hazardous and combustible materials were stored in the building, and doors did not have the proper fire rating. There was also no fire extinguisher for tenants to use, the apartments were not built to protect tenants from the rapid spread of fire, smoke and gas, and the exits were not free of obstructions, according to the suit.

The suit charges that Kanabis failed to warn his tenants about the problems in the building and that he failed to contact the local fire marshal's office to allow an inspection when requested to do so. It also alleges he failed to take any action to fix the problems when he knew or should have known that failure to do so posed an unreasonable risk to his tenants.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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