Judge rules against mother of dead girls
Saturday July 9, 2003
She missed deadline to file intent to sue governments
By RENEE WINKLER
The mother of three young girls who died in a July 4, 2002, fire in Gloucester City waited too long to notify Camden County and municipal authorities of her intention to sue them over the handling of the tragedy, a judge ruled Friday.
Katia Williamson's 5-year-old daughter, Alexandra Slack, and 3-year-old twins Claudia and Coletta Slack died in the fire in their North Broadway duplex.
Williamson planned to sue local government agencies after a state investigative report published in May 2002 suggested poor communications, inadequate training, and a meltdown of the command structure may have played a role in the tragedy.
Under state law, Williamson was required to notify the governmental bodies within 90 days of the fire, or by Oct. 2, 2002, of her intention to sue. Failure to meet that deadline is grounds for dismissal of lawsuits at a pretrial state.
Superior Court Judge Michael J. Kassel said Friday the deadline is rigid and Williamson did not present any proof that ``extraordinary circumstances'' existed to extend it. ``This is a legal issue, not an emotional issue,'' he said.
His ruling, however, does not bar Williamson's attorney, Stephen Tatonetti, from filing lawsuits against Gloucester City, Mount Ephraim, Brooklawn and Camden city and their fire departments as well as Camden County.
However, because permission was not granted to file the notice later than 90 days, those defendants could ask that a complaint be dismissed.
At that point, the presiding judge would have to determine if there is adequate evidence for Williamson's claim that she was unaware of potential liability of any of the defendants by the Oct. 2 deadline.
In court documents, Tatonetti said Williamson was unaware of the problems in handling the fire until the publication of the report in late May.
Williamson filed her formal notice of a potential lawsuit within two weeks of that report.
Also killed in the fire were Mount Ephraim Fire Chief James Sylvester, Camden County Deputy Fire Marshal John West, and Gloucester City firefighter Thomas Stewart III.
Williamson and her partner, Frank Slack, escaped. Williamson was hospitalized until July 17, 2002, for injuries linked to smoke inhalation.
Plaintiffs are not required to notify defendants who are individuals, businesses or corporations. However, government agencies must be notified so they can prepare a defense against a personal injury lawsuit.
Twenty fire companies responded to the predawn blaze.
In opposition to Williamson's request, M. James Maley Jr., attorney for Gloucester City, referred to widespread news coverage of the fire, including national publicity. He said a lawsuit could have been filed before specific defendants were identified, either by the report of the N.J. Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Commission, or by independent investigation.
Tatonetti said the report gave more focus to a possible lawsuit, but he said it is still not certain if Williamson will sue, or who the defendants would be.
Williamson, who attended the hearing before Kassel, declined to comment.
So, she wont get to sue the cities and departments that she wanted to sue. GLORY BE THIS DAY! She should be ashamed of herself for even thinking this. She was just in this for the money, it makes me sick.
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08-09-2003, 11:01 AM #1
Judge Rules Against Mother of Dead GirlsFirefighter, Volunteering since Oct 2001
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08-10-2003, 10:35 PM #2His ruling, however, does not bar Williamson's attorney, Stephen Tatonetti, from filing lawsuits against Gloucester City, Mount Ephraim, Brooklawn and Camden city and their fire departments as well as Camden County.
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