By Elizabeth Dinan
PORTSMOUTH — Contractors blamed in a federal lawsuit for a massive 2015 fire at the Portsmouth Gas Light Co. argued in court filings that restaurant employees were responsible for the blaze that caused more than $1.7 million in damage.
The Patriot and Harleysville insurance companies filed suit against Tri State Hood and Duct, its affiliate Tri State Fire Protection, and Portsmouth Steam of Rye. The insurers claim fire damage at the Gas Light was “caused by the gross negligence, negligence, carelessness and/or negligent acts” by the contractors, who were paid to inspect, maintain and clean the restaurant’s commercial kitchen hood and ducts prior to the fire.
Originally filed as separate lawsuits and now consolidated as one, the litigation seeks to recover the insurers’ costs for claims paid to the Gas Light. In a May 29 filing to the court, by all the parties, it is reported that the Harleysville insurance company paid more than $1 million and Patriot paid more than $750,000 in fire-related claims. The court has assigned the dispute to its “complex” docket and scheduled a trial date of Jan. 22, 2020.
In the newly filed joint discovery plan, the court notes Tri State Hood has reported it worked for the Gas Light to clean kitchen hoods and ducts, but was terminated more than seven months before the fire. The company further contends “the fire was caused by the negligent acts or omissions” of Gas Light employees, “including its kitchen staff.”
Tri State Fire denies liability and informed the court it inspected the Gas Light’s fire-suppression system July 17, 2015, when the system passed the inspection. That company, as well as Portsmouth Steam, alleges the fire was caused by negligence or omissions by Gas Light staff.
Fire Chief Steve Achilles told the Herald, the day of the fire, the blaze started in a duct for a wood-fired oven and burned up through the roof.
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 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.
The original story can be found here.