Lawsuit filed over devastating ‘09 Joliet Empress Casino blaze - FOX 32 News Chicago

Lawsuit filed over devastating ‘09 Joliet casino blaze

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JOLIET, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Lawyers for the former Empress Casino in Joliet filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit Tuesday over a 2009 blaze that devastated the venue's entertainment pavilion.

The casino was undergoing renovations when the March 20, 2009 fire destroyed the venue's ballroom and restaurants, and damaged part of an office building.

The fire was one of the largest in the Joliet Fire Department's history, causing an estimated $340 million in damage and requiring crews to shuttle more than 1.5 million gallons of water to the scene to fight the flames, officials said at the time.

Tuesday's lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, blames the fire on general contractor W. E. O'Neil and five other companies associated with the building's construction and renovation.

The suit claims a welder working for subcontractor Jameson Sheet Metal inadvertently sparked the blaze in the kitchen area, which ignited greasy cooking residue and spread flames throughout the attic and truss space.

O'Neil should not have permitted welders to work in the kitchen because of the presence of combustible residue in the ductwork, the suit alleges. The casino also claims the construction firm failed to take adequate fire safety measures and did not provide a fire extinguisher close to where the welder was working.

The suit also blames Wisconsin-based kitchen cleaning company Averus, which had previously been hired to clean out the flammable residue.

Lawyers for the casino further claim there were no sprinklers in concealed attic and truss spaces where the fire spread. The suit seeks to hold responsible architect Linden Group, engineering firm R. L. Millies & Associates and sprinkler company Global Fire Protection for that omission.

A Joliet building inspector found other sprinklers in the pavilion had been disconnected when and fire doors were not working, which was not unusual for a project in the midst of construction.

The 11-count suit claims all negligence and willful and wanton conduct against all six companies except Averus, which it accuses only of negligence. The suit seeks compensatory damages of more than $83.5 million.

The casino itself was untouched but the blaze shut down operations for three months. After the casino reopened to gamblers, work continued on a new entertainment pavilion and the Egyptian-themed venue was reopened as the Hollywood Casino in December 2010.

None of the six companies listed as defendants could be reached for comment on the suit Tuesday.

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