Sara Lee lost $2 million worth of products in warehouse fire, suit claims

Kelly Holleran Mar. 23, 2010, 3:41am

Sara Lee has filed suit against a warehouse, alleging the warehouse's welding activities caused a fire that resulted in the loss of more than $2 million worth of Sara Lee bread products.

Sara Lee claims it entered into an agreement with Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation in which it agreed to sell a large quantity of bread products to Gilster-Mary Lee. The agreement prompted Sara Lee to contract with defendant Fresh Warehouse to store its bread products at the warehouse until their delivery to Gilster-Mary Lee, according to the complaint filed March 9 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Between February 2009 and June 2009, Sara Lee delivered large quantities of its bread products to Fresh Warehouse and paid to store the products there, the suit states.

However, on June 10, all of Sara Lee's bread products were destroyed in a fire at the warehouse, the complaint says.

Sara Lee claims the fire began after a Fresh Warehouse employee used a torch to weld a large steel support beam in its warehouse. In storage racks adjacent to the steel support beam, wooden pallets containing highly combustible air conditioners sat on shelves, according to the complaint.

"Sparks from the welding fell on, in, and around the nearby storage racks, which contained wooden pallets of stored products, including the air conditioners," the suit states. "The sparks caused the wooden pallets and cardboard boxes to catch on fire. The air conditioners themselves caught fire, and eventually the materials inside the air conditioners exploded. Upon information and belief, the flames from the fire reached up to 18 feet high, and caused smoke damage throughout the entire building."

Because of the fire, Sara Lee's bread products were destroyed and unfit for human consumption, the complaint says.

Sara Lee claims it contacted Gilster-Mary Lee to inform the company of the fire, and the company refused to accept any bread products. Thus, Sara Lee was forced to sell the bread products as animal feed and suffered a considerable financial loss, according to the complaint.

"Sara Lee's financial loss due to the fire-damaged bread goods exceeds $2,000,000," the suit states.

In its four-count complaint, Sara Lee alleges negligent storage, willful and wanton conduct, negligent bailment and breach of fiduciary duty against Fresh Warehouse.

It is seeking the costs of its bread goods lost in the fire, freight costs it incurred when shipping the bread to Fresh Warehouse, warehousing costs incurred when storing the bread at Fresh Warehouse, costs to replace the damaged bread goods, punitive damages and other relief the court deems just.

Sara Lee will be represented by Cook, Ysursa, Bartholomew and Shevlin in Belleville and by P. Stephen Fardy, Arthur J. Reliford Jr., Keely Lewis Wise and Dane A. Bolinger of Swanson, Martin and Bell in Chicago.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-108.

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