Families, victims sue over fatal Door County explosion

Families, victims sue over fatal Door County explosion

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MILWAUKEE (AP) - The families of people killed and injured in an explosion at a resort in Door County filed a lawsuit Friday against the Iowa-based resort, construction companies and a utility, claiming negligence caused a pipeline to explode.

Five explosions in early July killed Patrick M. Higdon, 49, and his wife, Margaret Brooks Higdon, 45, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who were vacationing in a cottage along with their children and other family members at the Cedar Grove Resort in Ellison Bay. The resort is headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Lawyers representing their three children, who were injured in the blasts, and other relatives who were also injured, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Green Bay, asking for unspecified damages. Authorities have said 12 people in all were injured when the blasts rocked the tiny resort community on the Lake Michigan shore July 10.

The Door County Sheriff's Department said following the blasts it suspected propane was involved but investigations are still ongoing. A message left at the department was not immediately returned late Friday.

The lawsuit by two firms, one in Green Bay, Wis., and another in Farmington Hills, Mich., claim that Arby Construction, Inc., severed an underground propane gas line while performing work for the resort.

Also named in the suit are the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, Portside Properties LLC., and their insurance companies, and Ferrellgas, Inc.

Elyse Stackhouse, an attorney for the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, said she had not yet seen the suit and could not comment on it. She said the utility is cooperating with authorities and is also conducting its own investigation.

Will Burdine, vice president and senior counsel for Arby Construction, of New Berlin, Wis., said the company had not yet seen the suit and could not comment on it.

Scott Brockelmeyer, a spokesman for Overland Park, Kan.-based Ferrellgas said the company did not cause the blast and had no knowledge of an underground propane leak.

"The investigation confirmed that the underground gas line was equipped with a tracer wire so that the line could be readily located before any excavation work," Brockelmeyer said.

Portside Properties and the resort did not immediately return messages seeking comment Friday afternoon.

Both law firms, Habush Habush and Rottier S.C. in Wisconsin, and Fabian, Sklar and King P.C. in Michigan, declined further comment.

The filings said that Higdon's three children, 16-year-old twins James and Patrick, and 12-year-old Megan, suffered permanent injuries and worry and mental distress because of the explosions. The children's ability to earn money in the future was diminished, the filings said, as was their enjoyment of life.

The parents of Margaret Higdon, James and Margery Brooks, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., also named in the suit, have become guardians of the children. They were staying at the resort the night of the explosion and suffered injuries, the filing said.

Also named in the suit were the Brooks' other children, Daniel Brooks and his wife Catherine, of Rochester Hills, Mich., and Kathleen Brooks and her husband, Obert Burch, of Royal Oak, Mich. All four of them suffered injuries as a result of the explosions, the suit said.

The suit claims that Cedar Grove Resort failed to adequately mark the propane gas lines on its property prior to work done by Arby Construction.

"The defendant knew or should have known of the dangerous and unsafe condition," the suit said.

Arby Construction should have tried to locate the propane gas lines before excavating began, the suit said. The Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, for whom Arby was contracting, and Portside Properties, LLC failed to properly supervise and inspect Arby's work, the suit said.

Ferrellgas Inc. was negligent in installing a gas system that did not comply with federal and state safety codes, the suit said. The company should have known that the gas it sold was being transported under a public road and therefore provided temporary markings while the excavation took place, the suit said.

Much of the tiny tourist town closed in the days following the explosions. A 136-year-old grocery store, the only one in the town of about 150 people, eventually had to be demolished.

About 100 people were temporarily relocated after the blast.

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