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Parents sue Airbnb after fentanyl killed a 19-month-old girl at a South Florida vacation rental

By Shira Moolten, Orlando Sentinel
Published: March 19, 2023, 6:02am

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was supposed to be a peaceful Florida vacation for a couple and their five children at a lake house in Wellington, but it ended in a nightmare, a lawsuit says.

A day after Lydie and Boris Lavenir arrived at their Airbnb rental, she found their 19-month-old daughter, Enora, foaming at the mouth with a lethal amount of fentanyl in her blood, according to the wrongful death complaint. After paramedics rushed her to the hospital, she was pronounced dead.

The source of the fentanyl remains a mystery.

Now, the Lavenirs are suing Airbnb, along with the house’s owner, the rental agent and the man who previously booked a stay there, arguing that he or his fellow guests brought the fentanyl that killed their daughter into the house.

The lawsuit adds to the increasing scrutiny surrounding short-term rentals, which surged in popularity during the pandemic but have received pushback from nearby residents who complain about noise, trash, and rising housing costs. In some areas, local governments have banned them entirely.

In June, Airbnb announced a permanent ban on parties.

“I think this is the industry’s dirty little secret,” said Thomas Scolaro, the family’s lawyer, who commented on their behalf. “It’s their dirty little secret that their houses are often used as party houses where drugs are used and abused.”

The Lavenirs had arrived at the house from Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean, with plans to spend a weekend there, then a few days in Orlando and a few days in Tampa, Scolaro said.

They had booked a stay through Airbnb at the four-bedroom, two-bathroom lake house on The 12th Fairway, in an “affluent” residential neighborhood, according to the wrongful death complaint, from Aug. 6 through Aug. 9, 2021. But they didn’t know what had transpired there in the weeks before their stay.

“The representations made by Airbnb created, to say the least, a false sense of security,” the complaint states. “In reality, the subject premises had a history of being used as a party house.”

On Aug. 7, the day after the family had checked in, Enora Lavenir lay down next to her 14-year-old sister for a nap in one of the beds.

Earlier that morning, she had brought her father his slippers. He had fallen asleep, then woke up again and went to get milk from the kitchen, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office incident report. From the other room, he heard someone scream, “Enora is dead.”

Lydie Lavenir had gone to check on her 19-month-old daughter and found her, unresponsive, in the bed, according to the report. Her face was blue.

Lavenir tried to do CPR while other family members called 911. Paramedics took her to the hospital, where doctors were unable to revive her, the report says. A medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was acute fentanyl toxicity.

Both parents tested negative for drug use.

Between July 30 and Aug. 1, five days before the Lavenirs arrived, Aaron Kornhauser visited Palm Beach County for a concert. He booked the Wellington house for six adults, the complaint states, when, in fact, 11 adults were staying there. During his stay, people brought drugs to the home and used them on the kitchen counter and in the bedrooms.

The Lavenirs are arguing that one of those drugs was fentanyl.

In a court filing, Kornhauser’s attorney said he admitted to renting the house for those dates but denied the remaining allegations. Kornhauser told detectives with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office that a group of guests had used cocaine and marijuana in the house but not fentanyl, according to the incident report. They did cocaine on the kitchen island.

A spokesperson for Airbnb said that the Lavenirs were the first family to rent the home using Airbnb, and that Kornhauser booked his stay using Vrbo, another short-term rental company.

“Our hearts go out to the Lavenir family and their loved ones for their devastating loss,” Airbnb said in a statement.

Kornhauser could not be reached for comment.

Though the lawsuit does not currently name Vrbo, Scolaro says he plans to file a lawsuit against them as well. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

After Kornhauser’s stay, the rental agent for the property, Yulia Timpy, sent him a message, according to the court documents.

“You and your family were perfect tenants!!” it read. “House was same way that I give it to you.”

The lawsuit alleges that, in addition to Airbnb, Kornhauser, Timpy and the owner of the house, Ronald Cortamilia, are all responsible.

In responses filed in court, Cortamilia and Kornhauser denied responsibility and argued that the parents were negligent.

Scolaro said that companies like Airbnb and Vrbo have rating systems that encourage hosts to accept requests from guests, even if they don’t want to. If a host declines too many requests from potential guests, their rating goes down, he said.

Rental companies could do “a litany of things” to stop or curtail incidents like Enora Lavenir’s death, Scolaro added, like party bans with “real enforcement mechanisms” and allowing homeowners not to rent to people they get a “bad vibe” from.

Neighbors told investigators that they observed parties at the same house in late June or early July, before Kornhauser’s stay, according to the PBSO incident report.

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Another party took place on Labor Day weekend, after Enora Lavenir’s death. One of the neighbors told detectives that he reported the party, and the rental agent arrived and shut it down.

Unable to find the source of the fentanyl that killed the Lavenirs’ daughter, the Sheriff’s Office closed the investigation almost a year later, pending any new leads.

“I am currently unable to determine how the child, Enora Lavenir, ingested the fentanyl,” the detective concluded in the report. “Therefore I am unable to develop probable cause for abuse or neglect leading to the death of Enora.”