First lawsuit filed by JJ's employees after deadly explosion - KCTV5 News

First lawsuit filed by JJ's employees after deadly explosion

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Six employees of JJ's Restaurant filed the first lawsuit Friday afternoon over the deadly Feb. 19 explosion that ripped through the popular Plaza area establishments.

The employees sued Missouri Gas Energy, Heartland Midwest, Time Warner Cable, Missouri One Call System and USIC Locating Services, which marks utility lines. The employees did not sue the Kansas City Fire Department.

The employees say they suffered physical injuries as well as emotional issues.

The 25-page lawsuit says a combination of erroneous utility line markings and miscommunications led to Heartland Midwest puncturing a gas line and that Heartland had failed to obtain the proper permits.

"MGE told people at the scene, including employees of JJ's that the gas leak would soon be repaired and that there was no reason to evacuate. MGE repeatedly told people at the scene not to worry and that everything was under control," the lawsuit states.

The area should have been evacuated, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit specifically names Missouri Gas employee Michael Pailer, who was the first to respond to the scene for MGE.

Citing the pending litigation, a spokesman for MGE declined comment. Other defendants did not respond to emails or telephone calls, except Time-Warner, which issued the following statement.

"The investigation into this tragedy is ongoing. This lawsuit, or any comment about it, is premature until the investigation is complete and we know the facts," the statements said.

The six employees named in the lawsuit are Linsday Simmons, Clay Samuelsen, Doug Dodson, Deidre Chase-Estes, Andrew Letourneau and Nathan Dorsey. All six were working inside the building at the time of the explosion.

Megan Cramer was killed in the explosion. Her family is not part of the lawsuit.

The six employees named in the lawsuit filed by attorney Grant Davis were working the night of the explosion. The restaurant was located at 910 W. 48th St.

Davis told KCTV5's Alice Barr that the hope is to prevent future tragedies.

"This was a tragic and preventable explosion," he said. "It didn't have to hurt people."

Time-Warner Cable had contracted with Heartland Midwest to install cable lines to a nearby hotel. Heartland Midwest did not obtain dig permits from the city, but the company's attorney says that was not necessary.

The lawsuit says Time-Warner should have made sure that Heartland Midwest had obtained the necessary permits. The lawsuit claims that Heartland was negligent in its actions including identifying all underground utility lines before digging.

Heartland Midwest employees should have taken better care when digging to install the lines, the lawsuit says. Missouri One Call, who utility companies work with to get lines marked, and USIC failed to properly locate and identify all underground utility lines before Heartland Midwest began its work, the lawsuit alleges.

USIC is the nation's largest company for locating and marking utility lines, the lawsuit says. The markings were done up to two weeks before the Feb. 19 explosion.

"A combination of erroneous markings and miscommunication between the boring companies and the marking companies caused or contributed to cause the boring drill to run into the gas pipeline and rupture the pipeline," the lawsuit says.

Heartland Midwest struck the gas line and an employee, who suffered critical burns in the blast, called 911 at 4:54 p.m. Feb. 19. The Kansas City Fire Department responded and turned over the scene to MGE about 20 minutes after the call came in. The explosion occurred at 6:04 p.m.

Employees of Heartland Midwest and MGE failed to properly warn JJ's employees about the dangers posed by the leak, according to the lawsuit.

MGE told firefighters it had the situation under control. MGE failed to inform those living and working in the area that there was a danger and that they should leave the area immediately, the lawsuit says.

"Plaintiffs were not ordered to evacuate and were not told that there was a danger of fire or explosion," the lawsuit says. "MGE employees detected gas in structures at a level that would require evacuation, but failed to timely order an evacuation or communicate the urgent need to leave buildings and structures in and around the gas leak."

After the explosion, the six employees say they suffered serious and permanent injuries from "the powerful concussive blast." The six say they suffer from serious, permanent and progressive psychological and emotional injuries including post-traumatic stress disorder.

The lawsuit seeks "a fair and reasonable sum" for the injuries and trauma suffered by the employees.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

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