Two sisters were killed in a home they rented to celebrate their dying father. Now he’s fighting for them
A family from Maryland is suing home rental site Homeaway.com for misrepresenting a property as safe after a fire broke out at 3am and killed two sisters staying at the house.
The federal lawsuit, which names the rental company and the property owners as defendants, is asking for $75,000 in emotional damages and an unspecified amount in economic and medical damage, according to the East Hampton Star.
In early August, the Wiener family paid $8,000 for a weeklong stay at a $1.8m rental house in the Hamptons. The family’s father, Lewis Wiener, a former chair of the US Courts of Federal Claims, was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer according to MSN, and was using the trip as a way to spend time with his family before his health deteriorated further.
Rather than being a bittersweet vacation, the Star reported that a fire broke out in the rear of the house, killing his daughters, Jillian Wiener, 21, and Lindsay Wiener, 19, who were asleep on the second floor of the house. He, his wife, and their son managed to escape the house.
Zachary Wiener, 23, escaped with burns on his hands, and Lewis Wiener suffered burns to his hands and feet and required treatment for smoke inhalation, according to the outlet.
"Rather than fond memories of a week’s vacation on Long Island’s east end, the Wiener family is left with a nightmare from which they cannot wake," the lawsuit says. “Defendants’ greed, corner-cutting, and willful failure to give any thought to the safety of the occupants of the premises led to the deaths of Jillian Rose Wiener and her sister Lindsay Eliza Wiener.”
Andres Alonso, the attorney representing the family, told The Independent this week that the allegations in the lawsuit include a focus on faulty upkeep at the rental.
“There are multiple bases for the claim. Including but not limited to, faulty electrical wiring and the design of the outdoor kitchen,” he said.
Edward Burke Jr, the attorney representing the homeonwers, Peter and Pamela Miller, told The Independent that the couple did not tamper with the home’s wiring or smoke detectors.
“It is impossible to put into words the magnitude of this tragedy nor describe the devastation, but the one thing I can say is that the Millers did not tamper or alter fire alarms or electrical wiring within this house, and this house was their home,” Mr Burke said.
Mr Burke said he did not have further comment.
Southampton’s public safety and emergency management administrator said the blaze was likely started in an outdoor kitchen the family used during their stay, according to the East Hampton Star. The paper went on to report that the homeowners of the property are facing 58 code violations in the town, including claims that three smoke alarms were not working and that the outdoor kitchen the family used had been built without necessary building permits.
The lawsuit makes note of those violations, claiming the home had "worthless carcasses of non-functioning alarms" despite Homeaway allegedly claiming it had working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in an email to the family.
"This is as reckless a situation as you can find," Mr Alonso told the New York Post. "This didn’t need to happen and it happened because everyone decided they were going to take shortcuts."
Mr Alonso also sent a letter to Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney in October demanding to know why no criminal charges had been brought against the owners of the home. He received word back from the Mr Tierney saying the fire was being investigated by the DA’s homicide bureau as a criminal matter, per the East Hampton Star.
"[There’s] nothing definitive yet, but we are hopeful that at the conclusion of his investigation the Suffolk County District Attorney will proceed with criminal charges" Mr Alsonso told The Independent.
VRBO, the parent company for Homeaway.com, told The Independent it does not comment on pending litigation.