Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Renters, attorney seek default judgment in defamation suit over home explosion

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | May 16, 2018

Renters who allege their home exploded from leaking gas and their former attorney seek default judgment against a man they claim made maliciously false statements regarding the circumstances of the explosion.

Plaintiffs Lee Irwin, Cheryl Irwin and attorney Ronald S. Motil of Glen Carbon filed a motion for default judgment on May 3 through attorney Thomas Keefe Jr. of Belleville.

They argue that defendant Christopher Arnold was served on April 2 and had not entered an appearance as of May 2.


“That therefore defendant is in default,” the motion states.

The Irwins filed their original lawsuit against AmeriGas Propane Inc. and property owner Doris King in February 2015 following the explosion (15-L-183). The suit was filed through Motil, who withdrew his appearance on Oct. 25, 2017. Keefe took over as plaintiff attorney in the injury suit.

The plaintiffs filed their three-count defamation complaint against Arnold on Jan. 18. The Irwins allege that Arnold falsely said they lied about the circumstances of the explosion, have perjured themselves, abused controlled substances, traded in illicit controlled substances, and that the alleged use of the controlled substances caused the explosion.

Motil alleges Arnold falsely stated that he instructed the defendant to tamper with and destroy evidence.

Cheryl Irwin individually alleges Arnold stated that she swore falsely and perjured herself in an unrelated protective order proceeding.

The plaintiffs claim Arnold published the alleged statements on June 27, 2017, in a telephone call to a “1-800” phone number, by an unprivileged conversation with Motil, and at other times to be identified in discovery.

The plaintiffs allege Arnold’s statements have substantially damaged and will continue to damage them.

They seek more than $20 million, plus costs.

A status conference has been set for June 11.

In their original 2015 complaint against AmeriGas and King, the Irwins allege they entered into a lease agreement with King to rent a property located at 805 Troy Street in Collinsville on Sept. 22, 2014. Prior to moving in, the Irwins allegedly entered into an agreement with AmeriGas to provide propane gas and related services to the property through a propane tank located in the rear of the residence and gas service lines located throughout the residence.

The propane tank provided propane to various gas appliances within the home, including the water heater located in the basement.

At approximately 2 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2014, an AmeriGas employee partially filled the propane tank with 100 gallons of liquid propane. The employee was unable to light the water heater but allegedly informed the Irwins that he would allow propane to enter the home so the gas stove could be used. He then left the property around 3 p.m.

The suit states that when Lee Irwin returned home from work at 6 p.m., he and Cheryl Irwin went into the basement and attempted to light the water heater. However, his attempts to light the appliance caused an explosion due to leaking gas.

State Farm also filed a lawsuit involving the explosion on behalf of King and against AmeriGas.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 18-L-35

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Organizations in this Story

Keefe Keefe and Unsell PC St. Clair County Circuit Court