7 more restaurants join gas outage lawsuit against TECO, Posen

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— A class-action lawsuit against TECO Peoples Gas and Posen Construction grew today from one plaintiff, a North Naples pizzeria, to include seven more restaurants in Naples and Lee counties.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Lee Circuit Court last week, had listed one plaintiff, Lucarelli’s Pizza & Deli, which sued on behalf of Collier and Lee county businesses that lost money due to a Nov. 11 gas line explosion during the widening of Colonial Parkway in Fort Myers.

But today, Naples attorneys Michael R.N. McDonnell and Gary L. Green filed an amended complaint on behalf of five corporations that represent seven restaurants.

The amended complaint adds Gulf Coast Commercial Corp, which owns The Inn on Fifth, McCabe’s Irish Pub and The Spa on Fifth; BAIG-NAP LLC, BAIG-BON LLC and BAIG-FM LLC, the owners of three Big Al’s City Grills in Lee and Collier Counties; and TAS Sunshine Enterprises LLC, which does business as Jaegerhaus restaurant in Naples.

The lawsuit seeks damages from TECO and Posen on behalf of all commercial gas customers in Lee and Collier counties whose businesses lost service following a gas pipe explosion on Nov. 11, when 2010.

That’s when Mario Santos, 26, of Bonita Springs, a Posen employee, was operating a bulldozer that hit the 8-inch natural gas line, causing a major break in the Southwest Florida system. About 6,000 residential and 1,200 commercial customers in Lee and Collier counties lost gas service and were forced to shut down or operate with limited services.

Santos remains in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital’s Regional Burn Center.

If a circuit judge certifies the lawsuit as a class-action claim, all other Lee and Collier businesses whose gas service was interrupted will receive formal notification that they can be included in the class. That would enable them to participate as plaintiffs to recover their economic losses.

The lawsuit alleges TECO and Peoples Gas System negligently failed to adequately mark and protect the gas line during the construction project and that Posen was negligent because it was warned not to dig until the lines were remarked.

Most businesses had no gas for about three days.

The damages sought by the plaintiffs include lost revenues due to being unable to use gas appliances for food preparation and other services, the elimination or significant reduction of customers while gas was not available and the expenditure of unnecessary business expenses to compensate for the loss of gas.

Peoples Gas President Gordon Gillette has said they’re investigating and it was unclear whether TECO will pay any claims. If the accident is determined to be out of its control, he said, it won’t be responsible for paying customer losses.

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