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MSZL&M Subrogation Group Secures 85% Recovery For Catastrophic Fire in Fast Food Restaurant in Washington State

Jun 17, 2019 - About the Firm by

(June, 2019)  On September 19, 2015, the employees of a fast food Restaurant in Brewster Washington closed at 1:00 AM.  At 2:30 AM, a fryer that was inadvertently left on malfunctioned, and exceeded its operating temperature limit, resulting in a flash over and fire in the vat.  Triggering the Ansul system, the fire should have been extinguished and damages of less than $50,000 incurred.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Unbeknownst to the restaurant, its fire suppression inspection company had employed an untrained, uncertified, and unqualified technician for over seven years.  Upon a scene inspection attended by Jeffrey Sotland of the Subrogation Group at MSZL&M and Daniel Joyce, P.E. of Jensen Hughes, it was learned that the fire suppression nozzles were not properly aimed and the fusible links were dated 2012. 

Due to the fact that this was the second catastrophic fire for a restaurant in this region, related to the same technician at the fire suppression company, a decision was made to file claims not only for negligence, but also for violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.  While the Act caps damages at $25,000, it allows for all costs and attorney fees.

After filing separate suits, in separate counties, on behalf of the restaurant operator and the landlord, MSZL&M conducted focused discovery addressing the inspection processes and the employees of the fire suppression company. Armed with the entire discovery file of the prior suit, very focused discovery was undertaken.  As a result, it was learned that no technicians from this company had been Ansul certified since 2009, the technician at issue had lied about his own certifications while under oath, and the owner of the company lied about certifications of employees during his deposition.

With a thorough report from Daniel Joyce of Jensen Hughes that laid out, inter alia, the failure to aim the nozzles for over three years before the fire (pictures taken by the duct cleaning company were instrumental in proving this point), the links did not appear to have been replaced since 2012, the interlock was never tripped to see if it worked properly as it failed on the night in question, and the technician only spent an hour on site for his last inspection even though he admits it should take two hours for that location, the case was settled a month before trial.

With compensatory damages just in excess of $1.4 million dollars, it was counsel’s position that the total damages inclusive of statutory damages, costs, and attorney fees would be $1.9 million.  After the primary policy was tendered, the case settled two days later with a contribution by the excess carrier for a total resolution of $1.2 million dollars.  Using the statutory damages as a negotiation tool enabled counsel to resolve this matter without the need for a two week trial in Chelan County, Washington.