Aquilini family patriarch sued following deaths of 2 children
Lawsuit alleges children died from injuries suffered in a fire on Luigi Aquilini's U.S. property
A Washington state couple whose two children were badly burned in a fire and later died from their injuries is suing Vancouver businessman Luigi Aquilini and several companies linked to the Aquilini family.
Sergio and Erika Hernandez say they worked at Aquilini Red Mountain Vineyards and, as part of their compensation, they were provided with a nearby mobile home in Benton City, Wash., which is about 320 kilometres northeast of Portland, Ore.
In a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court, lawyers for the Hernandez family say Sergio and Erika went to work on the morning of July 31, 2017, and left their two children — Patty, 7, and Alex, 10 — sleeping inside the home.
Lawyers for the family say when Sergio returned, the manufactured home was engulfed in flames.
According to the lawsuit, Sergio broke a window, climbed inside and passed both children to Erika, who was standing outside.
Sergio then managed to escape through the window.
Lawsuit describes 'horrific suffering'
The court documents allege both children suffered burns to most of their bodies and about a third of Sergio's body was also burned.
Patty succumbed to her injuries on Aug. 18, 2017, and Alex, who had since turned 11, died in late January 2018.
The lawsuit alleges the boy and girl both endured "horrific suffering" before their deaths and their father hasn't been able to work since the incident.
It claims there were no smoke alarms in the home and extensive alterations were made to the electrical systems without required permits or inspections.
"Defendants' actions or inactions resulted in a fire in the plaintiff's home," the lawsuit alleges.
"Further, the lack of smoke alarms made it so that there was no warning to the people inside before it was too late to exit before they were injured."
A lawyer for the family says Erika and Sergio were migrant workers but he is unaware of their immigration status.
'Tragic event': Aquilini Group
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Aquilini Group senior vice-president Jim Chu sent a statement to CBC on Monday evening.
"This was a tragic event in 2017 that saddened everyone involved. We deeply mourn the loss of these two young lives and the resultant burn injuries to Sergio, their father and one of our valued workers, when he and other employees tried to rescue the children," the statement said in part.
"After the tragic incident, we reached out and provided moral and financial support to the parents and relatives, including expenses and regular pay for both Sergio and mother Erika for eight months. Thereafter, the parents were well enough to file for worker benefits."
The statement from the Aqulinis also alleges Sergio Hernandez hit a junction box with a truck and the fire started minutes later.
John Kawai, a lawyer representing the Hernandez family, acknowledges he has heard about an incident involving a truck striking the junction box.
Kawai says, however: "Whether that had anything to do with what happened, that's a piece we still have to investigate over the course of this lawsuit."
The Aquilini family has not yet filed a statement of defence.
With files from Paisley Woodward