First JJ's explosion lawsuit goes to trial - KCTV5

First JJ's explosion lawsuit goes to trial

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Two parties in the case involving the fatal explosion and fire at JJ's restaurant are no longer involved in the lawsuit.

Attorneys would not discuss the specifics, but did confirm that Missouri Gas Energy and Heartland Midwest are no longer defendants in the property damage trial filed on behalf of JJ's.

Opening statements on Wednesday came from David Helms, the attorney representing USIC Location Services, the company responsible for marking underground pipes in and around the restaurant.

Helms said his client accurately identified the location of the pipes. "The notion of allegation against our client is far-reaching," Helms told jurors.

The attorney went on to heavily blame Missouri Gas Energy for the tragedy, saying MGE should have done more to prevent gas form accumulating in JJ's, claiming workers should have turned off the gas valve located next to the restaurant. Helms told jurors MGE crews "demonstrated a lackadaisical attitude and sense of non-urgency."

"Why was that restaurant allowed to turn into a bomb," Helms asked rhetorically?: 

It’s been more than two years since the restaurant exploded into flames on The County Club Plaza. One server was killed while 14 others injured.

While numerous lawsuits were filed, the first jury trial related to the explosion began this week in Jackson County court. On Tuesday, jurors heard lawyers argue who is responsible for the explosion and fire. There are many lawyers inside representing many companies, all pointing the finger at whom they believe is responsible for the gas leak that fueled the explosion.

One party is the case is the restaurant’s owner, Jimmy Frantze, who is suing for $9.3 million in damages and lost income to his restaurant.

It was February 19, 2013, when JJ's went up in flames.

The venerable restaurant that stood for over 20 years was destroyed along with its extensive wine collection. The value of the wine is part of what is in dispute.

Frantze, his brother and business partner originally sued gas company, Missouri Gas Energy, for failing to properly inform JJ's employees about the potentially life threatening leak until it was too late.

He's also sued the contracting company, Heartland Midwest. The plaintiff's attorney says the excavator who was in charge of digging had a history of hitting pipelines. Again, neither Missouri Gas Energy nor Heartland Midwest are defendants in the case.

The suit continues against Time Warner Cable. Attorneys say Time Warner, who hired the excavating company, should have done more research about who it was hiring and ensured the contractor had the approved permit to dig.

The second defendant left in the case is USIC Location Services, the company in charge of marking where the underground pipe lines were. Attorneys said the locations were often left to guess work.

Earlier this month, Mike Tanner settled his lawsuit against MGE, USIC and his Heartland Midwest supervisor. The Heartland Midwest employee nearly died from his injuries, which included severe burns and broken bones. Click here to read more about Tanner's lawsuit. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

The family of Megan Cramer, who was trapped in the rubble and died in the fire, settled their lawsuit in November 2014. Those terms were also confidential.

UMKC law professor Allen Rostron has been following the litigation related to the gas explosion. Rostron said it won't be an easy one.

"It's really complicated with an event like this. You have a lot of different parties who are potentially responsible," Rostron said.

The trial could last weeks as each company's attorney defends their clients. For his part, Frantze's attorneys said not only were their damages, but also a loss of potential revenue.

"It might be easy to measure the damages to the building, but one of the features is the question about a loss of business. Is there business that could have been made? That's really debatable," Rostron said.

A Missouri commission has faulted MGE's handling of the situation. Click here for more.

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