Settlement Is Reached In Four Seasons Fire Lawsuit

Details Of Deal With Complex, Defendants Not Disclosed

October 13, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Four Seasons Sports Complex and its insurance company reached an out-of-court settlement last week with three of the companies they sued for $1.5 million.

The settlement -- reached late Thursday night --meant an abrupt end to the almost three-week trial before Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.

Details of the settlement were not disclosed. But lawyers for theHampstead health club and its insurer, Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.;Prestige Cable TV of Maryland Inc. and its cable-installation contractor, North Central Services; and Fire Protection Industries had beennegotiating since Tuesday afternoon.

"A settlement was reached that was acceptable to all parties," said William F. Gately, the Baltimore attorney who represented Frederick-based Fire Protection Industries. "We're all going our separate ways now."

Four Seasons and Fireman's Fund filed the lawsuit in January 1990, claiming that the July 1989 fire that destroyed the health club was made worse by the malfunctioning sprinkler system installed by Fire Protection Industries. Anelectrical cable to the sprinkler's water pump was severed, the suitsays, during work by Prestige and by A&M Underground Sprinklers of Westminster.

A&M was dropped as a defendant Thursday afternoon after Four Seasons' Philadelphia attorney, John F. Brown Jr., completed his case.

During the trial, testimony focused on how a faulty inspection of the fire sprinkler system by FPI about eight months before the fire failed to point out the severed electrical cable. Had they known of the severed wire, Brown said, Four Seasons' owners would have repaired the cable.

FPI and the other defendants, however, tried to show that the fire was the result of arson and that the sprinkler system malfunctioned because it was tampered with.

The state Fire Marshal's Office declared the fire an arson; no arrests have been madein the case.

Four Seasons owner Melvyn L. Newman -- the Chevy Chase investor who purchased the property in 1985 -- and center directorand part-owner Kevin Bidelspach spent about $1.7 million to rebuild the center.

Fireman's Fund paid out benefits to Four Seasons of about $1.3 million.

"I'm glad that it is over," Bidelspach said Friday. "I'm glad that I can now plunge into the operations of the club."

While details of the settlement are confidential, Newman and Bidelspach said that some money was involved.

"It was an agreement," Newman said. "It wasn't what we wanted. I obviously would have been happier had it gone all the way through."

He said that had the trialbeen able to continue, he was confident that the questions of arson -- defense attorneys tried to show inconsistencies in Bidelspach's testimony about the fire -- and questions of fault on the part of FPI would have been put to rest.

When asked whether the amount of moneywas equal to the $1.5 million sought by Four Seasons and Fireman's fund, Bidelspach indicated that it was not.

"This whole thing has put us under pressure," Bidelspach said. "The fire marshal never produced anything to prove this was arson. I just want to get back to running this club."

Bidelspach was the second-to-last witness to be heard in the trial that began Sept. 23. He spent most of Monday and Tuesday on the stand, answering tough questions about the club's finances from the time he came on board in 1987.

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