CHICAGO — Families of three women who died in a heat-related incident at their senior living facility will receive a multi-million dollar settlement.

The three women, ages 68 to 76, were found dead in May of last year, while inside their apartments during a heat wave.

The families of Dolores McNeely, Gwendolyn Osborne and Janice Reed won their lawsuits and will receive a $16 million settlement from the James Sneider Apartments.

“The settlement, the lawsuit, sends a message if we can prevent one more death, then we’ve done our job,” said Megan O’Connor, a partner at Levin and Perconti. “The truth is, no number suffices in this case. We had three women with vibrant lives. No amount of money can bring them back or compensate their families.”

The lawsuit accused the apartment managers of ignoring calls for help and requests to turn off heating and turn on the air conditioning. The night before the grim discoveries, one resident called 311 and asked why the heat was still on.

  • Caller: Is there certain times you have to do that (heating/cooling)?
  • Operator: Yes, the heat is September 15 to June 1.
  • Caller: What about the air?
  • Operator: There is no ordinance in the City of Chicago for air-conditioning, only for heat.

This changed in the wake of the tragedy. The city’s zoning committee, led by 49th ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden, introduced and passed Chicago’s first cooling ordinance. Landlords are now required, in buildings with more than 100 units, to install cooling equipment and actually turn it on, once the heat index outside reaches 80 degrees.  

The existing heat ordinance was also modified to explicitly show that while heating must be provided between September 15 and June 1, it doesn’t mean the air conditioning can’t be turned on, if and when needed.  

“These families have found some closure, but the main point is we hope this lawsuit sends a message that landlords need to be held accountable and they need to take actions to protect vulnerable families and populations,” O’Connor said.

The total payout will be divided equally between the families of the three women.