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Cook County to pay $9 million to settle 2003 high-rise fire suits
County Administration Building blaze killed 6 and injured 16

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Michael Higgins

Cook County officials agreed Tuesday to pay $9 million to settle lawsuits filed by victims of a high-rise fire in 2003 that killed six office workers and injured 16 others at the County Administration Building.

The county was one of five defendants to settle on Tuesday and avoid a massive civil trial that is set to begin next week and could last two months or more.

The workers died in the fire on Oct. 17, 2003, after they became trapped in a smoke-filled stairwell that had self-locking doors while firefighters battled the blaze on the 12th floor below them.

The victims' families remain in settlement talks with the City of Chicago, a building management company and other remaining defendants, but plaintiffs' attorney Robert Clifford said Tuesday that he was not optimistic a deal would be reached with them.

"We are in active negotiations with all of them," Clifford said after a hearing in Cook County Circuit Court. But "what I see is a lot of finger-pointing going on between the remaining defendants."

Lawyers announced the $9 million settlement in court. County officials could not be reached immediately for comment on the agreement.

The other four defendants who settled on Tuesday were companies that worked on the redesign of the building or its fire emergency systems: Simplex Grinnell; Competitive Piping Systems; Folgers Architects Ltd.; and Environmental Systems Design.

The fire started inside a storage room within a secretary of state's office suite, but the cause of the blaze remains in dispute.

In the lawsuits, plaintiffs emphasized what they said were a series of mistakes by firefighters and the city's 911 operators, including poor communications and a failure to designate one stairwell for firefighting and one for evacuation.

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