Insurers Seeks $81 Million for Casino Fire

     CHICAGO (CN) - Three insurers demand recovery of the $81 million they paid for damages from a massive fire at Empress Casino Joliet, allegedly caused when a welder's spark ignited cooking grease inside a kitchen duct.
     National Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Lloyd's Syndicate 1414, and Axis Insurance Company sued W.E. O'Neil Construction, Linden Group, R.L. Millies & Associates, Global Fire Protection Company, Jameson Sheet Metal, and Avernus Inc. in Cook County Court.
     In March 2009, a major fire "destroyed large portions of the Empress Casino Joliet, which was owned by Empress and was located in Joliet, Illinois. At the time, Empress was in the process of making significant renovations to the casino. The fire caused tens of millions of dollars of damages and originated in the casino complex's buffet kitchen when a welder employed by Jameson was welding new ductwork to existing ductwork that was designed to be connected to an exhaust hood that would vent heat and fumes from the kitchen range," the insurers say in the lawsuit.
     The fire blazed for seven hours and consumed a large portion of the casino.
     Although the welders had tried to remove the grease inside the ductwork, "it remained coated, covered and caked with cooking grease and other combustible residue from cooking operations. Heat and/or sparks from the welding tool utilized by the welder ignited the grease and residue inside the ductwork. Even though other structures in the casino complex were fully sprinklered, the building in which the kitchen was located did not contain sprinklers in the concealed attic/truss space, as was required by applicable building codes," the complaint states.
     The fire destroyed casino property worth $83.5 million, including damage to buildings other than that worked on by the defendant contractors.
     The casino reopened as the Hollywood Casino Joliet three months after the fire.
     The insurers seek recovery of the $81 million they paid to Empress for the fire damage allegedly caused by defendants' negligence and willful and wanton conduct.
     They are represented by Mark Rabinowitz with Cozen O'Connor.