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Potential lawsuits ahead after JJ’s blast

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Even before government safety experts have released their final report on the Feb. 19th explosion at JJ's Restaurant on the Country Club Plaza, attorneys are already laying the ground work for what could easily amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

FOX 4 Problem Solver Linda Wagar spoke to some legal experts who wanted to remain anonymous, but explained how they think the court battles will unfold.

Among those experts expected to be sued are Heartland Midwest, the Olathe, Kan., contractor that was digging to install fiber optic cable. Although not mentioning Heartland Midwest by name, a Kansas City Fire Department report blamed a contractor for breaking the gas line. In fact, Grant Davis, an attorney representing employees of JJ's Restaurant that blew up in the explosion, said there was more than just a single report to prove a contractor's role. Davis said a piece of the drill was found inside the broken gas line.

Legal experts say Time Warner Cable also might be named in a lawsuit since it's the company that hired Heartland Midwest. A lawsuit might claim that Time Warner was negligent in its hiring and supervision of Heartland.

The Missouri One Call System -- responsible for marking the location of utility lines -- also could find itself hit with a lawsuit if its alleged mistakes were made in that process.

Then there's Missouri Gas Energy. Although it operates as a public utility, it's a private company which could find itself in legal hot water. Experts told FOX 4 that attorneys will be looking at the time period that passed before MGE turned off the gas.

The Kansas City Fire Department could also be named in a lawsuit since it failed to evacuate the restaurant when the gas leak was first reported. However, legal experts say suing the fire department would be tricky. It's a public entity and is protected by a sovereign immunity statute. But that immunity can be waived if the injuries occurred on public property.

In this case, an attorney might be able to argue that incident started on a public street.

Individual firefighters also could be named -- however one of the legal experts FOX 4 spoke to said suing firefighters usually doesn't sit well with juries.

Although JJ's Restaurant and other businesses affected by the blaze are the most likely ones to seek damages, legal experts say JJ's could also become the target of a lawsuit if it's proved that restaurant employees failed to turn off a pilot light that a Fire Department report says ignited the blaze.

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