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Suit seeks 83.5 million in Empress Casino fire

Lawyers for the former Empress Casino in Joliet filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Tuesday over a 2009 blaze that devastated the venue’s entertainment pavilion.

The casino was undergoing renovations when the fire destroyed the venue’s ballroom and restaurants and damaged part of an office building on March 20, 2009. The fire caused an estimated $340 million in damage, officials said at the time. The $83.5 million lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, blames the fire on general contractor W.E. O’Neil and five other companies associated with the building’s construction and renovation.

The suit claims a welder working for subcontractor Jameson Sheet Metal inadvertently sparked the blaze in the kitchen area, which ignited greasy cooking residue and spread flames throughout the attic and truss space.

O’Neil should not have permitted welders to work in the kitchen because of the presence of combustible residue in the ductwork, the suit alleged. The casino also claims the construction firm failed to take adequate fire-safety measures.

The suit also blames Wisconsin-based kitchen-cleaning company Averus, which had been hired to clean out the flammable residue.

Lawyers for the casino claim there were no sprinklers in concealed attic and truss spaces, where the fire spread. The suit seeks to hold responsible architect Linden Group, engineering firm R. L. Millies & Associates and sprinkler company Global Fire Protection for that omission.

The casino was untouched but the blaze shut down operations for three months. After the casino reopened to gamblers, work continued on a new entertainment pavilion and the Egyptian-themed venue was reopened as the Hollywood Casino in December 2010.

None of the six companies listed as defendants could be reached for comment on the suit Tuesday.



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