Widow of Sun Prairie firefighter sues companies over deadly explosion

Published: Dec. 20, 2018 at 5:40 PM CST
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Three people have sued contractors involved in the Sun Prairie explosion from July 10, according to court records.

Abigail Barr, wife of deceased Capt. Cory Barr, filed a wrongful death and a construction negligence lawsuit Thursday - on the same day authorities said no one would face charges, court documents show.

Capt. Barr was killed in an explosion after a natural gas line was hit.

The attorneys representing Barr are also representing Sun Prairie firefighters Ryan Welch and Greg Pavlik, who were injured in the explosion. They are suing for construction negligence and for injuries from the explosion.

Barr sued VC Tech, Bear Communications, USIC Locating Services and WE Energies in the wrongful death lawsuit.

VC Tech was hired by Bear Communications to build a fiber optic network near the intersection of North Bristol Street and West Main Street. USIC Locating Services was hired to locate and mark underground utilities.

According to the lawsuits filed today, VC Tech and Bear Communications were negligent in the following aspects:

• A gas main was hit by a drill

• They relied on a ticket pulled by a digging company on May 23 instead of receiving a current or refreshed ticket from Digger's Hotline.

• They failed to check with USIC to determine the exact gas line service location.

• They drilled without knowing the exact location of the gas line.

WE Energies spokesman Brendan Conway said the Milwaukee-based company has not received or reviewed the lawsuits, but does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuits claim that USIC didn't properly inspect the underground utility lines, and the company also didn't notify Digger's Hotline or WE Energies.

According to the documents, USIC didn't warn workers that the gas lines were not marked at the intersection.

The lawsuits also claim WE Energies did not respond immediately once a gas leak was reported on June 10.

According to the filing, WE Energies did not shut off the gas immediately. The lawsuits do not specify a monetary amount for damages.

Long road ahead for civil suits

Robert Mich Junior, attorney at Kay & Andersen, LLC, said even though the criminal charges are off the table, the legal proceedings are far from over. Mich said civil lawsuits from the explosion could go on for possibly years.

Lawsuits may include: repair or replacement value to real estate or personal property, personal injury, medical bills, pain, suffering and/or lost wages, etc.

"There's going to be a lot of different parties involved, a lot of people pointing fingers at each other, and so it's going to take a lot of discovery a lot of background information, in terms of the claims and lawsuit discovery process to find out who would be ultimately responsible for what," Mich said.

NBC15 also followed up with Harms Insurance Group, out of Sun Prairie, for an update on what's next from an insurance standpoint. In July, Matt Harms said they had at least $5 million in claims connected to the explosion downtown. Harms said since the explosion, there were 23 claims filed in all, and 90 percent were closed as of Dec. 20, 2018.

The few that are still open include businesses that may not be up and running yet among other reasons.

Stay with NBC15 for continuing coverage of the Sun Prairie explosion.