Family Sues Nebraska Department over Fatal Fire

The family of a Scottsbluff man killed in a fire earlier this year intends to pursue a wrongful death claim against the City of Scottsbluff and its fire department.

Scottsbluff attorney Maren Chaloupka, representing the Estate and family of Salome (Sal) Blanco Sr., notified the city of the Blanco’s tort claim on Nov. 26. The council formally accepted the tort claim during its meeting Monday.

Sal Blanco, 92, died in a fire at his home at 1715 Fifth Avenue on Jan. 6, 2012. Officials said he died of smoke inhalation.

Blanco’s wife, Ramona, escaped the blaze.

Three fire departments battled the blaze, which destroyed the Blanco home and damaged a neighbor’s home. Nebraska Deputy State Fire Marshal Mike Turner said the cause of the fire was traced to ashes deposited on a back porch. The ashes, which were from a fireplace, were hot and burned through a container.

In the letter, the Blancos allege that firefighters were unreasonably delayed in responding to the fire and were inadequately equipped.

“More likely than not, he (Blanco) would not have suffered and died as he did had the Scottsbluff Fire Department met the appropriate standard of care in its response to the fire.”

The Blancos indicate that they are seeking damages and offer a settlement proposal of $1 million.

Chaloupka asks in the letter: “For each person reviewing this letter who questions whether that amount is excessive, I would ask him or her: What would you think is a fair price for dying in terror and pain and fear in one’s own house?”

Chaloupka told the Star-Herald that is the maximum amount that the family is allowed to pursue under state statute. She declined to speak about specifics acts of negligence that the Blanco family alleges.

“I can only say that the Scottsbluff Fire Department failed to do what firefighters are trained to do,” she said.

“This would be a terrible way to die, frightened and alone in your own house as it is on fire and you are helpless.”

The family wants to be able to say that they fought for their husband and father, she said.

“We hope the reaction of the city is not to say, ‘He was elderly, therefore his life didn’t have much value,” she said. “…His family will all agree that his life had great value to him, to them and he had a good quality of life and was in good health.”

Under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, a person intending to pursue a lawsuit against a political subdivision must file a tort claim, or notice of intent to file a lawsuit. The tort claim puts the subdivision on notice and the subdivision, in this case the City of Scottsbluff, has six months in which to respond. During that time, the city can investigate and offer to settle, if it chooses. After six months, the notifying party can withdraw its tort claim and file a lawsuit in the local district court.

Scottsbluff City Manager Rick Kuckkahn said he could not comment on the tort claim.


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