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Lawsuit Filed Over Suburban Chicago Casino Fire

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A 2009 fire at a casino in Joliet, Ill., has sparked a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against six companies involved in renovations and additions to the structure at the time of the blaze.

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On Tuesday, attorneys for the former Empress Casino filed an $83.5-million suit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging that contractor W.E. O'Neil, Chicago, should not have allowed welders to perform work in the casino's kitchen, the source of the fire, due to the presence of combustible cooking residue in kitchen duct work.

The suit outlines a scenario in which a welder employed by Addison, Ill.-based Jameson Sheet Metal accidentally sparked a fire in the kitchen, igniting greasy residue and facilitating the spread of flames to concealed attic and truss spaces.

The blaze destroyed an entertainment pavilion and portions of the casino's entrance, resulting in $340 million in damage, officials indicated at the time.

Alleging that attic and truss spaces weren't equipped with sprinklers, the suit cites architect Linden Group, Orland Park, Ill., engineer RL Millies & Associates, Munster, Ind., and supplier Global Fire Protection Corp., Standish, Mich., for the exclusion.

The suit also cites O'Neil for failure to locate a fire extinguisher in proximity to the welder and Wisconsin cleaning company Averus for failure to remove residue from the ductwork.

In all, the suit contains 11 counts alleging negligence and willful and wanton conduct.

The fire, which occurred March 20, 2009, started small, but eventually resulted in the collapse of ballroom and kitchen ceilings while destroying a pyramidal-shaped structure on top of the building. The casino closed for three months, resulting in more than $2 million in losses for the City of Joliet. No one was injured in the fire.



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