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The children of a Chicago man killed in a fire at an Airbnb in Maine might be able to pursue their lawsuit against the people and companies they hold responsible for the fire, but they can’t do it in Illinois.
A state appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the suit against multiple defendants, ruling the connection between the defendants in the lawsuit and Illinois are "tenuous at best," and therefore the lawsuit fails to meet so-called personal jurisdiction requirements to keep the lawsuit in Cook County court.
The fire occurred at a home rented through Airbnb in Maine, and the plaintiffs filed suit against the owners of the house; against Airbnb; the manufacturer of the smoke detectors in the house; their father’s girlfriend, who arranged the rental; and others who may have been involved in the sale and installation of the smoke detectors. A Cook County judge dismissed the counts against the homeowners and the smoke detector manufacturer, and the appellate court affirmed.
Illinois First District Appellate Justice Eileen Burke
In September 2016, defendant Julie Gilbert arranged to rent the Maine home of Trina Lewis through Airbnb. Gilbert told Lewis through Airbnb’s messaging platform she was renting the home for the birthday party of her boyfriend, Baldomero Zamora Sr., and that six people, including several children, would be staying there.
The morning of Oct. 9, 2016, while Gilbert’s party was staying at the house, a child playing with matches accidentally set a couch on fire. The flames spread, ultimately resulting in Zamora’s death.
The following spring, Zamora’s adult children, Baldomero Zamora Jr. and Brittney Zamora Cartalino, sued Trina Lewis and her husband, Troy, Airbnb and smoke detector manufacturer Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Inc., as well as the other defendants. Their suit claimed that the Kidde ionization-triggered smoke detectors in the Lewises’ home did not activate in time to allow Zamora to escape, resulting in his death.
The plaintiffs argued that the Lewises were liable because they listed the home with a notation that it had a smoke detector, but “failed to warn Illinois residents about the deficiencies of the Kidde ionization-triggered smoke detectors.” Because the Airbnb listing was available to Illinois residents and because the Lewises engaged in a commercial transaction with Illinois resident Gilbert, the pair said, the court has jurisdiction.
In the appellate court order, Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke said the connection between the Lewises and Illinois was tenuous at best.
“The Lewises never directly advertised nor solicited business in Illinois and never came to Illinois for business,” Burke wrote. “We cannot fathom that the Lewises had fair warning that they could be sued in Illinois for injuries sustained as a result of a fire occurring in Maine where the cause of action had no relationship to Illinois except that their guests came to Illinois.”
With more than 3 million ionization-triggered smoke detectors sold in Illinois and substantial business ties to the state, Kidde’s connection to Illinois is stronger, the court noted. However, those ties have little or nothing to do with the case.
“Critically, the Kidde smoke detectors at issue in this case were not purchased in Illinois, were not purchased by Illinois residents, were not installed in an Illinois house and did not allegedly cause a fire in Illinois,” Burke wrote. “There is an insufficient connection between Illinois and the underlying controversy, regardless of how strong Kidde’s unrelated business activities are in Illinois.”
Justices Bertina E. Lampkin and Jesse G. Reyes joined Burke in the appellate decision. The decision was filed as an unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23 and cannot be cited except in limited circumstances.
The Zamora family has been represented in the case by attorneys with the firm of Freeborn & Peters, of Chicago, according to Cook County court records.
The Lewises have been represented by the firm of Walker Wilcox Matousek, of Chicago.
Kidde has been represented by the firm of McGuire Woods, of Chicago.