Farmers Insurance sues repair shop over restaurant fire

Kelly Holleran May 17, 2010, 7:50am

An insurance company blames an O'Fallon repair shop for causing a fire in a Ballwin, Mo. restaurant after the shop allegedly failed to properly repair a fryer vat.

Farmers Insurance Exchange filed a lawsuit April 30 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Olvera's Trade Winds.

Farmers claims it insured El Maguey Restaurant when a fire broke out on July 18, 2009, which caused damages to the restaurant and business loss.

Because of the fire, Farmers had to pay El Maguey $283,252.52 in damages, according to the complaint.

Inspectors have since determined the fire originated in a deep-fat fryer and subsequently spread to other portions of the kitchen and restaurant, the suit states.

Just before the fire, El Maguey had been experiencing problems with the deep-fat fryer, the complaint says. For instance, the fryer would automatically shut down for no apparent reason, Farmers claims. Frustrated, El Maguey had called Olvera's to fix the fryer, the complaint says.

After Olvera's attempts to repair the fryer, it no longer shut down, and El Maguey believed the problem to be solved, according to the complaint. However, after the fire, investigators discovered that a high temperature safety control had been bypassed in Olvera's efforts to fix the fryer, the suit states.

"The subject fire was caused in whole or in part by Olvera's improper and negligent and unauthorized modification of the Subject Fryer's high-temperature safety shut-off feature," the complaint says. "The by-passing of this high-temperature safety shut-off allowed the Subject Fryer to continue to heat beyond safe temperatures."

Farmers blames Olvera's for causing the fire, saying the repair company negligently performed an unauthorized bypass of the high temperature safety shut-off features, failed to properly inspect the subject fryer to determine if the thermometer was working and to recalibrate the setting and failed to properly inspect the fryer. In addition, Olvera's negligently failed to ensure the high-temperature safety shut-off switch was functioning, failed to perform its work and repairs properly and failed to comply with appropriate industry standards, according to the complaint.

In its two-count complaint, Farmers seeks reimbursement for the money it paid to El Maguey, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

Stuart M. Brody of Sneckenberg, Thompson and Brody in Chicago will be representing it.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-215.

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