Delays, Wrangling Prolong Four Seasons Negligence Suit

Health Club Is Claiming $1.5 Million To Cover Its Rebuilding Costs

September 25, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — It took nearly a year after a devastating fire to rebuild the Four Seasons Health Club in Hampstead.

And counting the time since the suit was filed, it could take nearly twice as long for the club and its fire insurance company to find out whether a Carroll County CircuitCourt jury will award them the $1.5 million spent to reconstruct theNorth Carroll health club.

Since Monday, attorneys for Four Seasons and Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., and the four companies they have sued, have been trying to finish opening arguments before Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.

But something keeps getting in the way.

Jury selection for the three-week trial took all day Monday.

The attorney for Four Season's and Fireman's made a two-hour opening statement yesterday before lunch.

But just 20 minutes into the opening statement of one of the defendants' lawyers, a juror had to be excused because of a family emergency, pushing that statement -- and those of the attorneys for the three co-defendants -- to this morning.

The suit, filed 20 months ago, blames negligence on the part of Fire Protection Industries of Frederick, Prestige Cable TV Inc. of Westminster, North Central Services of Minnesota, and A & M Underground Sprinklers of Westminster for theJuly 1989 blaze that destroyed most of the 46,800-square-foot healthclub.

In his opening arguments yesterday morning, John F. Brown Jr., the Philadelphia attorney for Four Seasons and Fireman's, told the jury that a series of negligent actions by or on behalf of the defendants contributed to the destruction of the club.

He said that when North Central Services installed cable lines at the complex for Prestige Cable, installers cut through the main power line to a sprinkler system that failed to operate on the day of the fire.

He said he will show also that when Fire Protection Industries inspected the sprinkler system in December 1988 -- seven months before the fire -- it should have noticed that the power line was cut and notified the center's owners.

He said his clients believe A & M Underground Sprinklers cut the power line to the sprinkler system a second time while installing underground drainage spouts in April 1989 and failed to tell the owners.

William F. Gately, the Baltimore attorney representing Fire Protection Industries and the only defense attorney who spoke yesterday, said he would show that his client was not negligent.

"There are clear and compelling reasons why Fire Protection Industries owes the plaintiffs nothing," he said.

He'll have to finish explaining why this morning.

The case is the latest incident in what is believed to be the largest-ever fire in the county.

A few days after the fire, the state Fire Marshal's Office ruled the blaze an arson; no arrests have been made in the case.

The insurance company and the complex's owners, however, have always doubted that finding.

That point is expected to take up much of the testimony in the case, which is being heard in Courtroom 4 at the Courthouse Annex.

The facility -- now completely rebuilt -- was opened in the mid-1970s and was purchased by its director, Kevin Bidelspach, and investor Gregg Newman in 1985.

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