A Jackson County jury awarded $5.9 million to the owners of JJ’s restaurant, the popular eatery and bar just west of the Country Club Plaza that was leveled in a fiery explosion in February 2013 caused by a natural gas leak.
The explosion took the life of restaurant server Megan Cramer, injured 15 other people and extensively damaged two nearby buildings.
The jury, by a vote of 9-3, found against defendant Time Warner Cable, assigning 98 percent of the blame to the company and 2 percent to JJ’s.
If the verdict stands, Time Warner will be responsible for paying 98 percent of the $5.9 million, or $5.78 million.
“We know no court decision can undo this tragedy,” Time Warner spokesman Mike Hogan said in a statement following the verdict Thursday. “We’ll take some time to review the court’s decision before deciding our next step in this case.”
The jury deliberated for two days following a trial that lasted nearly six weeks. It found USIC Locating Services, which marked the location of underground utility lines, not liable.
Restaurant owners Jimmy and David Frantze initially sued four companies for more than $9 million, including the cost of establishing their new JJ’s restaurant just across the street from the destroyed one. That restaurant opened in November.
Among the companies they sued was Missouri Gas Energy, which in March settled a complaint that its response to the leak was inadequate. The court dismissed MGE and Heartland Midwest, the company whose drilling ruptured the gas line, from the Frantzes’ lawsuit.
JJ’s originally opened in 1985 and was known for its extensive wine list.
Attorney Steven Emerson, who represented the Frantzes, said the plaintiffs were “happy to have this day behind us.”
“We’re hoping that utility companies will pay attention to this verdict and say to themselves that they need to be a lot more careful when they’re putting utilities underground,” he said.
Emerson said that while Time Warner did not itself rupture the gas line that led to the explosion, it hired Heartland Midwest, which did.
“If they hire contractors to do their work, (they need) to ensure that the contractors also follow the law. And our evidence was that, although Time Warner Cable hired Heartland Midwest and told it to follow the laws, it didn’t do anything to check and see if that was really happening.”