During a week of record-breaking high temperatures in May, three women died inside their sweltering apartments in a Rogers Park senior housing facility. Now eight months since the tragedy, their families will split a $16 million payout for their deaths.
Delores McNeely, 76, Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, and Janice Reed, 68, were found unresponsive in their units at the James Sneider Apartments, at 7450 N. Rogers Ave., on May 14. They all died of environmental heat exposure, according to records from the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
“There is no excuse for apartment owners or managers to ignore cries for help from their tenants, especially when their main clientele is the elderly,” the McNeely family’s attorney Brian Salvi said in a news release Monday. “While nothing will fill the void in her loved one’s hearts, we hope this settlement agreement will allow the family to find a bit of closure and begin the healing process.”
In the days leading up to the women’s deaths, the building had received several complaints from residents about units being too hot and the air conditioning not working, Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th, said at the time. Temperatures in Chicago that week remained consistently above 90 degrees, lawyers for the families said in the news release Monday.
According to lawyers for the families, temperature readings registered McNeely’s and Reed’s units at around 103 degrees at the time they were found.
When they complained about the heat, building residents and Hadden were reportedly given the same erroneous answer: that a Chicago heat ordinance required the building to keep the heat on until June 1.
The ordinance sets a daytime temperature requirement of at least 68 degrees from Sept. 15 to June 1, but has no requirement that the heat has to stay on if temperatures naturally exceed that threshold.
Attorneys Steve Levin and Megan O’Connor filed a lawsuit on behalf of Osborne in June. Attorneys Larry Rogers Jr. and Jonathan Thomas filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of Reed that same month. According to Monday’s news release, McNeely’s case was settled leading up to filing.
In December, Gateway Apartments Ltd. and Hispanic Housing Development Corp., which own and manage the senior apartment building, agreed to pay a total settlement of $16 million to the women’s families. The payout will be split equally between the families of the three women.
“Gwendolyn Osborne was a vibrant, intelligent, and dynamic woman. She had so much more life to live. Her death is such a tragedy for her family and friends,” said the Osborne family’s attorney, Levin. “Gwendolyn’s family hopes this settlement sends a strong message to landlords that they must behave responsibly and if they don’t, they will be held accountable.”
Reed’s son remembered her as a “lovely lady” who was always in good spirits and very independent. “My mom was my father, my mother, my best friend, just everything,” he said back in May. “She meant the world to me.”