Federal jury awards $8.3 million over 2014 gas explosion in Soulard
By Robert Patrick St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Mar 31, 2017
ST. LOUIS • A federal jury awarded on Friday nearly $8.3 million to two companies whose building was destroyed in 2014 by a natural gas explosion and fire in Soulard.
Stars Investment Group LLC and clothing and manufacturing firm Stars Design Group Inc. claimed in court and in the lawsuit that AT&T and two of its contractors, MasTec North America Inc. and Four Winds Construction LLC, were negligent when installing a fiber optic line on Feb. 5, 2014. The line was supposed to provide high-speed data to Stars’ brick building at 2222 Menard Street.
Stars’ attorney Eric Trelz told jurors in closing arguments Thursday, on the seventh day of the trial, that Four Winds failed to remove the snow from the ground and find the building’s gas line. After workers cut the line, gas was forced through the building’s foundation and built up until an explosion occurred.
MasTec had too much work and subcontracted the job to Four Winds, which he said was under time pressure to finish the job. Four Winds tried to do so when “no reasonable work crew would have proceeded,” showing “conscious disregard’ for the company, the building occupants and the first responders who showed up after reports of the leak, he said.
Firefighters evacuated building occupants moments before the explosion. In court filings, lawyers said that the building was “left to burn in order to prevent further gas explosions in the neighborhood” and that blocks surrounding the building were evacuated for most of the day.
Four Winds lacked a business license and permit to do the job, officials said after the blast.
Trelz said that MasTec and AT&T, whose project it was, were equally responsible.
Jurors Friday morning awarded Stars Investment Group $1.96 million in actual damages against all defendants and $750,000 in punitive damages against Four Winds. They awarded Stars Design Group $3.5 million in actual damages against all defendants and $2 million in punitive damages against Four Winds.
Jim Leritz, one of the lawyers representing the defendants, declined to comment.
In an email, Marty Richter, an AT&T spokesman, said, “We respectfully disagree with the verdict and are considering our options.”