Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Renters seek to exclude testimony of allegedly false statements in suit involving home explosion


By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Feb 27, 2019

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Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge scheduled a hearing for next week on a couple’s motion for judicial notice of admissions of false statements in a suit alleging the plaintiffs were injured when their rental home exploded.

A case management conference and hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for judicial notice and to exclude testimony has been set for March 6 at 1 p.m.

Plaintiffs Cheryl and Lee Irwin filed their 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. The suit was filed through attorney Ronald Motil, who withdrew his appearance in October 2017. The plaintiffs are now represented by Thomas Keefe Jr. of Keefe, Keefe & Unsell in Bellville.


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.

Then on Jan. 18, 2018, the Irwins and Motil filed a three-count defamation suit against Christopher Arnold in St. Clair County Circuit Court. They 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.

In a Dec. 10 order, St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson concluded that Arnold admitted the falsity of statements made against Motil when he affirmed allegations in the defamation complaint. He even sought to retract the alleged false statements.

The order states that Arnold has admitted that provided false statements to a third party, including an allegation that Motil instructed him to tamper with and/or destroy evidence.

In response to the finding, the Irwins moved for a judicial notice of Arnold’s judicial admission in their Madison County case on Jan. 16.

They argue that Arnold’s testimony regarding the circumstances of the subject explosion and that Motil had instructed him to tamper with evidence was false.

“Once Mr. Arnold judicially admitted before a sister circuit that his statements were actually false, those statements lost any probative value they might have had here; particularly when the substance of his statements was so extraordinarily prejudicial,” the motion states.

The plaintiffs seek to exclude Arnold’s testimony, arguing that “in addition to inviting perjury, relating these judicial admissions to cross-examination or impeachment would waste the time and resources of this court, the parties, and the jury.”

Madison County Circuit Court case number 15-L-183

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Keefe, Keefe & Unsell