Madison - St. Clair Record

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Status conference set for defamation suit involving home explosion; Renters, attorney seek sanctions over alleged threats


By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Oct 24, 2018

General court 4

A status conference has been set in a defamation suit alleging a man made maliciously false statements regarding the circumstances of a home explosion.

The status conference is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 9 a.m.

Plaintiffs Lee Irwin, Cheryl Irwin and attorney Ronald S. Motil of Glen Carbon filed a motion for sanctions against defendant Christopher Arnold on Aug. 20. They allege Arnold contacted the plaintiffs' counsel’s office and made “explicit threats to plaintiffs and their counsel.”


The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Thomas Keefe Jr. of Keefe Keefe & Unsell in Bellville.

“He specifically stated that plaintiffs ‘might want to think twice about pursuing a lawsuit against him because he knows a lot of things about them that he’s sure they don’t want anyone to know,’” the motion states.

The plaintiffs allege the defendant’s conduct is “completely consistent” with his “pattern of previous behavior.”

“That it was this pattern of previous behavior, ironically, that is the subject matter of this very lawsuit.

“That Mr. Arnold leveled similar threats against plaintiffs during prosecution of the underlying lawsuit in Madison County, and sure enough he carried out those threats by making false, libelous, and defamatory statements about each of the plaintiffs.

“That neither plaintiffs nor the undersigned appreciate being threatened by Mr. Arnold and hereby request sanctions against him for such behavior,” the motion states.

The Irwins filed their original lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court against AmeriGas Propane Inc. and property owner Doris King in February 2015 following an explosion that was allegedly caused by leaking gas (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 in St. Clair County Circuit Court. The Irwins allege 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.

Arnold, who is representing himself pro se, filed a motion for dismissal with prejudice on Aug. 20, arguing that the case has been brought against him wrongfully and without any merit.

On Sept. 5, St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson denied Arnold’s motion to dismiss the complaint.

Gleeson also set aside the plaintiffs’ request for default judgment and granted Arnold two weeks to file a proper answer.

Arnold filed an answer to the complaint on Sept. 18, confirming that he made a call to AmeriGas but denying he made a false statement or charges.

Arnold also filed a counter-complaint against the plaintiffs on Sept. 18.

He claims the plaintiffs forced him into “an illegal wrongful action to be shown at discovery.”

He alleges he is a witness in the Irwins’ case against AmeriGas and gave a deposition in the case on July 21.

Arnold claims that if he is “forced” to proceed with the defamation action, it will continue to cause reputable harm, lost wages, time away from his family, emotional distress and other expenses. He also claims the case may force him “into financial termoil (sic) if the need for an attorney becomes needed.”

The plaintiffs filed another motion for default judgment on Sept. 26, addressing the two-week extension Gleeson gave Arnold in order to file a proper answer. 

“That those weeks have come and gone and defendant has failed to file a proper answer.

“That Judge Gleeson admonished defendant that even though he’s chosen to represent himself he is required to comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure,” the motion states.

The plaintiffs also allege Arnold scheduled an appointment to meet with the plaintiffs’ counsel but failed to appear.

In the Irwins’ 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

Motil Law OfficeKeefe, Keefe & Unsell PC.

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