Time Warner Cable lost its bid to overturn the $3 million verdict it faces from the 2013 explosion at JJ’s restaurant that killed one employee and injured 15 people.
The cable company had hired a drilling contractor to lay conduit near the establishment near the Country Club Plaza. The work ruptured a natural gas pipeline, gas accumulated inside the restaurant and a source of ignition followed.
In August 2015, a Jackson County jury found Time Warner Cable to be 98 percent responsible for the explosion and the restaurant’s owners and operators 2 percent responsible.
Time Warner Cable appealed the verdict, which left it owing $3 million, based on “three verdict directing instructions” and the admission of expert testimony, according to a 46-page ruling from a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District.
The judges determined that Time Warner Cable was liable for the incident though it hired the contractor. They said the company could not delegate to others its responsibility for ensuring that “safety and construction codes” were followed.
“A public utility who retains a contractor to excavate in a public right-of-way must ensure that all applicable safety and construction codes regarding the excavation work are followed, because the work involves a non-delegable duty that would apply evenly to the utility if it performed the work itself,” the ruling said.
JJ’s restaurant had claimed in a counter appeal that the trail court erred in reducing the judgment by the amount of settlement payments from others previously in the case. Missouri Gas Energy and Heartland Midwest, the drilling contractor, each had agreed to settlements with JJ’s restaurant.
“Finding no reversible error, we affirm” the lower court’s ruling, the appellate decision said.
A statement from Time Warner Cable’s parent company Charter Communications said officials were “evaluating our next steps.” Charter bought Time Warner Cable, which now operates as Spectrum.
Tuesday’s ruling from the appeals court ends the case “as a practical matter,” said Steven Emerson, an attorney representing JJ’s restaurant.
Emerson said attorneys for Time Warner Cable could consider seeking a rehearing by the full appeals court, but he thought that path unlikely to be successful because the three-judge panel’s decision was unanimous.
Missouri’s Supreme Court normally does not accept cases like this, Emerson said, choosing instead to review cases that involve issues of widespread common interest or issues in which district courts have delivered conflicting rulings.