Fire Equipment Distributor Sued Over Restaurant Fire

Firefighters battle a December 2015 fire at the Portsmouth Gas Light Co. restaurant. [Rich Beauchesne/Seacostonline, file]


By Elizabeth Dinan

PORTSMOUTH — A second insurance provider for the Gas Light Co. has filed a federal lawsuit blaming three contractors for a massive Dec. 9, 2015, fire in the restaurant and seeks payment from the companies to cover fire-related costs.

The Patriot Insurance Company has filed a civil suit in the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire against Tri State Hood and Duct and its affiliate Tri State Fire Protection, as well as Portsmouth Steam of Rye. The three-count lawsuit was filed on behalf of the insurer by Portsmouth attorney John Sherman and seeks an unspecified monetary judgement, while noting damages exceed the court’s $75,000 minimum threshold. The insurer is also seeking interest, plus costs for taking the case to court.

The Patriot Insurance lawsuit claims fire damage at the Gas Light was “caused by the gross negligence, negligence, carelessness and/or negligent acts” by Tri State Hood and Duct, which was paid to inspect, maintain and clean the restaurant’s commercial kitchen hood and ducts prior to the fire.

The suit alleges Tri State Hood and Duct failed to use care during cleaning and inspection, failed to hire proper employees and failed to alert anyone of fire hazards it knew, or should have known existed. The suit claims the Hudson company failed to clean and inspect the kitchen hood and ventilation system, improperly certified they were up to code, improperly installed access panels for fire suppression ducts and chose improper materials for fire suppression ducts and access panels.

In the second count of the federal suit, Patriot Insurance claims Tri State Fire Protection was negligent with regard to inspections, testing and servicing the fire suppression system. The third count alleges Portsmouth Steam failed to properly remove grease and other combustible and flammable materials from the restaurant’s fire suppression system and ducts.

Patriot Insurance is asking for a jury trial and the three contractors have not yet responded to the lawsuit, nor did they respond to the Herald’s request for comment.

The same three contractors are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed Monday by Gas Light insurer Harleysville Insurance. That insurance company makes similar claims in a six-count suit accusing each of the contractors of negligence and breach of contract.

Fire Chief Steve Achilles told the Herald the day of the fire that the blaze started in a duct for a wood-fired oven and burned up through the roof. He said it was possible there was grease in the duct, but that remained under investigation.

Four months after the fire, Gas Light owner Paul Sorli said he had insurance protection for six months of business losses, including keeping his managers on the payroll while the business was closed. When he reopened a year after the fire, Sorli said it took 12 months, $2.5 million and help from restaurant staff, contractors and a friendly local bank to get the building repaired and the business reopened. Sorli also said the fire suppression system for the wood-fired stove failed to activate.

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