EAST ST. LOUIS — An insurance company's lawsuit against two business it says are responsible for a restaurant fire contained just enough possible evidence to go to trial, a District Court judge decided on April 21. 

According to background information in the ruling, after a fire destroyed part of the Firefly Bar & Grill in Effingham, the owner, Niall Campbell, made an insurance claim with Midwest Family Mutual Insurance. The insurer subsequently paid Campbell $100,472.33 in policy proceeds, and then filed suit against two companies it alleged were responsible for the fire: Merz Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., which designed and installed the ductwork over the grill where the fire started; and Rock Solid Surface Restoration Inc., a company hired to clean and maintain the ductwork and exhaust system.

Both Merz and Rock Solid filed responses that argue they weren’t responsible for the fire. According to experts that testified on behalf of Midwest, the Firefly was required to have the ductwork cleaned at least once every 30 days, something that wasn’t done in the 30 days prior to the fire in the system, the court document says.

Merz filed motions noting that Midwest’s own expert testified that inspections in ductwork that vents from grills must be conducted every 30 days, something that the Firefly also failed to do in the days leading up to the fire.

The court reviewed the initial claims, expert testimony and motions from Merz and Rock Solid which both requested summary judgment.

In their motion for summary judgment, Merz said that Midwest had failed to prove the installed ductwork was the cause of the fire. The fact that the fire occurred as a result of buildup in the ductwork over the grill was undisputed by all parties, but Merz denied that it was its design or installation of that ductwork that was at fault. Due to the expert testimony in the case, the court found that a reasonable person could possibly find Merz at fault and denied Merz's motion for summary judgment.

Rock Solid’s request for summary judgment fared better, as it was granted summary judgment for some of the negligence claims by Midwest, including an allegation that Rock Solid failed to notify Firefly of any difficulties with cleaning the ductwork. In the order, written by Justice Michael J. Reagan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, the court noted that the claims against Rock Solid for negligence “just barely” survived enough to be heard by a jury.

“In addition to the evidence linking the fire to Midwest’s failure to have the system inspected and cleaned every 30 days, other evidence points away from both Rock Solid and Merz,” Reagan wrote. “For instance, there is evidence that the Firefly’s fire suppression system was impaired—perhaps completely inoperable or turned off—at the time of the August 30, 2015 fire and failed to activate, at a minimum resulting in greater damage than would have been sustained had the industry-required suppression system responded.”

Regardless of those facts, the court determined that there remains enough evidence concerning possible causes of the fire for a jury to consider the negligence charges against both Merz and Rock Solid. The case has been set for trial in September, with a time to meet and possibly settle prior to the trial to take place before July 1.

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