Insurer sues over restaurant blaze

Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The banquet room at Mike Anderson's seafood restaurant on West Lee Drive in Baton Rouge on Dec. 13, 2011 after an early-morning fire totally destroyed the room. The restaurant's insurer filed a lawsuit  Dec. 4 against  its security company and a telephone company.
Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The banquet room at Mike Anderson's seafood restaurant on West Lee Drive in Baton Rouge on Dec. 13, 2011 after an early-morning fire totally destroyed the room. The restaurant's insurer filed a lawsuit Dec. 4 against its security company and a telephone company.

Mike Anderson’s alarm, telephone companies named

An insurer that paid Mike Anderson’s Seafood Restaurant more than $2 million following last December’s fire that closed the West Lee Drive eatery until March is suing the firms that installed the restaurant’s alarm system and a phone line to the system.

Transportation Insurance Co. alleges Custom Security Systems failed to monitor the security system — which included a fire alarm as well as motion and glass break detectors — that Custom installed at the restaurant.

Transportation also claims Gage Telephone Systems installed a faulty phone line that went directly to the alarm system.

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 4 in state district court in Baton Rouge. The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office served Custom and Gage with copies of the suit late last week.

“Our attorney has advised us not to make a comment,” Ronald Whiddon, Custom’s vice president, said Thursday.

Greg Wood Jr., vice president of Gage, said the suit’s allegations against Gage are incorrect.

An arsonist torched the restaurant at 1031 W. Lee Drive on Dec. 13, 2011, gutting one room and damaging others. It reopened March 22.

Baton Rouge Fire Department investigators are still trying to determine who set the restaurant on fire. A man arrested last December for allegedly setting fire to a Sonic four years ago has been named a suspect in the arson at Mike Anderson’s, but he has not been arrested in that incident.

Fire Department spokesman Barry Mounce has said firefighters received a call about the fire at 1:24 a.m. The suit says a passer-by made the 911 call. Firefighters arrived at the restaurant six minutes later and found the eatery’s inside banquet room engulfed in flames, Mounce has said.

Transportation — which provides property damage, business interruption and content insurance to Mike Anderson’s — says in its suit that Custom’s security log for Dec. 12, 2011, indicated the alarm system at the restaurant was activated at 10:25 p.m. The log for Dec. 13, 2011, revealed that between 1:09 a.m. and 1:17 a.m., nine separate alarms were sounded at the restaurant, the suit states.

“If Custom Security had notified with the Baton Rouge Fire Department or the Baton Rouge Police Department that an alarm was sounded at 1:09 a.m., this fire would never have occurred or, in the alternative, the damages would have been much less severe,” the lawsuit charges.

Custom’s security log also showed that the fire alarm was logged at 1:21 a.m. “but failed to provide a signal report to Custom’s monitoring who is supposed to be monitoring the system,” the suit alleges.

Custom’s logs indicated eight more alarms were sounded until 3:17 a.m., “all of which showed only a signal going off but not being reported to Custom Security, who had the responsibility of monitoring,” the suit says.

Gage installed one phone line that went directly to the alarm “so as not to be interrupted,” the suit states, but the line “provided static and interrupted the signal which Custom failed to notice and/or monitor ...”

The lawsuit, which has been assigned to state District Judge Todd Hernandez, seeks damages, including the $2,024,736.53 that Transportation paid Mike Anderson’s, plus attorneys’ fees.