St. Louis Litigation attorneys Eric Trelz and Laura Bentele secured a victory for clients Stars Investment Group LLC and Stars Design Group Inc. when a jury awarded the companies more than $8 million over a natural gas explosion and fire that destroyed their building in 2014.
The companies sued AT&T and two construction contractors, MasTec North America Inc. and Four Winds Construction LLC, for negligence when installing a fiber optic cable for high-speed data service to Stars’ building in February 2014 in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. AT&T contracted with MasTec to complete the work, who in turn contracted with Four Winds when MasTec became unable to take on the project.
MasTec submitted a request to the Missouri One Call System for underground utilities to be located in the area in January 2014. However, Four Winds, as the party performing the digging, did not notify MO One Call as required by Missouri statute. Also, the night before the explosion there was a large snowfall that obscured any markings that had been made. Despite the snow, Four Winds attempted to complete the project even though MasTec had canceled work for its crews operating in the area. Ultimately, Four Winds failed to locate and then pothole, or dig around, a gas service line adjacent to the building owned by Stars Investment Group. In the course of using underground directional boring equipment, Four Winds cut directly into a gas line, which leaked for some time and produced a strong smell. The gas migrated into the basement of Stars Investment Group’s building. At the time, 13 employees of Stars Design Group were in the building. When the fire department was finally called, they immediately evacuated everyone in the building shortly before it exploded.
At the time, Four Winds did not have an excavation permit or a business license to do work in the City of St. Louis.
In the explosion and resulting fire, Stars Design lost their building, significant business assets and the majority of their design files, which they were planning to back up offsite with the fiber optic cable addition.
The trial, which began on March 22 before United States District Judge Audrey Fleissig, lasted for seven days. The jury unanimously found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded the two companies a total of $8.3 million, including $2.75 million in punitive damages.
A partner in the firm’s Litigation practice group, Eric provides practical, sophisticated advice about legal problems unique to employment and complex commercial litigation. His 28 years of trial experience enhance his ability to represent clients in these types of claims. He serves clients from a wide range of industries, including banking and financial services, manufacturing, wholesale and retail entities, transportation, health care, automotive, food services, entertainment, and construction.
Laura focuses her practice on commercial disputes and real estate matters. She is also a co-founder and co-leader of the firm’s Agribusiness and Food team. Laura defends regional utility companies, financial institutions, mining companies, multi-state consumer product retailers and manufacturing companies in state and federal courts around the country.