Lawsuit alleges bad markings caused blast at JJ’s

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The Kansas City Star
The location of an underground gas line was improperly marked, triggering a series of events that led to the deadly explosion at JJ’s restaurant two months ago, according to a lawsuit filed by a drilling crew supervisor.
The suit was filed Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court by Heartland Midwest LLC foreman Michael Tanner.

In addition to alleging negligence on the part of USIC Locating Services for its markings, Tanner said Missouri Gas Energy should have turned off the gas after learning of the Feb. 19 rupture and failed to evacuate the area before the blast.

Neither USIC nor Southern Union Co., the parent company of Missouri Gas, responded Friday to requests for comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.

The restaurant near the Country Club Plaza was leveled, authorities say, after gas from the leaking pipe collected in JJ’s and was ignited, possibly by a pilot light on a stove or water heater.

Tanner, who suffered burns on 20 percent of his body, arrived at the scene of the gas leak about an hour after Heartland workers called 911 to say they had struck a gas line while boring underground to install cable television line, said his attorney, Richard E. McLeod.

USIC had marked the street for utility lines before Heartland began.

But according to the suit, the markings were wrong, leading crew members to think they could easily avoid the gas line that they later hit.

The suit also alleges there would have been no explosion had MGE stopped the leak with a shutoff valve when first informed of the rupture. According to the lawsuit, MGE “either failed to install such valves or close them after learning of the rupture.”

Tanner says he has incurred more than $1 million in medical bills because of his injuries that leave him with “partial or complete disability.”

He and his wife, Crystal, are seeking unspecified damages against USIC and Southern Union Inc., as well as a gas company employee who was on the scene that day.

A previous lawsuit was filed last month by six former JJ’s employees.

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