A jury recently began hearing testimony in the trial of a New York City landlord allegedly responsible for a deadly natural gas explosion (). Along with two accomplices, the landlord has been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for setting up an illegal gas line that caused the 2015 explosion that killed two people and injured 13 others.
District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. filed the charges to serve as a deterrent to building owners too often willing to take shortcuts to maximize profits at the expense of safety. “When you tinker around with the gas system, the electrical system hookups, as happened here, you have in effect weaponized that building and that power system, and you could be held accountable for the harm you inflict,” Vance said at the time the charges were announced.
According to prosecutors, landlord Maria Hrynenko urged her general contractor, Dilber Kukic, and an unlicensed plumber, Athanasios Ioannidis, to illegally tap into a gas line in one building she owned in order to provide service to another. Hrynenko did not want service interrupted so she could continue to receive rent averaging $6,000 per month for each apartment during renovations.
Even in cases where illegal acts by a landlord have led to fatalities, legal experts acknowledge the difficulty of obtaining a manslaughter conviction based on faulty construction work. New York law requires the prosecution to prove the defendants were aware they were acting recklessly and unreasonably disregarded the risks of death to others.
“Being aware of a substantial risk would seem to be inconsistent with maintaining their property and obtaining tenants, making it challenging to prove that level of reckless intent,” said Professor Kevin McCarthy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for one of the defendants, noted that the prosecution will have difficulty proving the cause of the explosion and the intent of the defendants to cause harm. “It’s normal human nature to want to hold someone accountable when something so terrible happens,” Agnifilo said. “On one hand you have a true tragedy and on the other hand, you have something that if you look at clearly, it’s hard to prove.”
Although prosecutors have achieved mixed results when bringing these kinds of cases over the years, it is essential that our justice system continue to attempt to hold landlords accountable when they allow greed to overcome their duty to provide a safe environment for their tenants. If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is crucial that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.