Pretzel & Stouffer

Pretzel & Stouffer Wins Verdict for Defendant in Case Involving Largest Back Draft in U.S. History and Fire that Destroyed Historic Church

Pretzel & Stouffer attorneys Ed Ruff and Michael Turiello recently won a case involving a fire that destroyed St. John’s Evangelical Church in Sycamore, Ill. Mr. Ruff and Mr. Turiello represented defendant G&G Electric in the case.

A massive fire and back draft, which is a violent explosion caused by the rapid re-introduction of oxygen into an oxygen-starved fire, demolished the historic church in February 2004. Investigators called the event the largest recorded back draft in U.S. history. The church’s insurer paid St. John nearly $4 million after the fire, and then sued G&G Electric and the company that serviced the church’s organ, Berhaus Pipe Organ Builders.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendants had performed negligent service on the organ, leading to frictional heating that caused the fire and explosion. Mr. Ruff and Mr. Turiello challenged that theory, arguing that the Sycamore Fire Department violated National Fire Protection Association standards by destroying important evidence. They also argued that arson could not be ruled out, pointing to a person of interest who police questioned for more than four hours but never charged.

The jury deliberated for three hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendants.

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