Judge will hear summary judgment motion in suit against sprinkler companies

Alejandro de los Rios Jul. 5, 2010, 4:00am


Judge Robin Giarusso will hear two motions for summary judgment brought by defendants in a suit filed by the state of Louisiana on behalf of the University of New Orleans (UNO) against sprinkler manufacturers on July 2 in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

The state, through the Division of Administration Office of Risk Management and the UNO Foundation, is suing Honeywell International Inc.; Stanley Convergent Solutions Inc., as successor to Honeywell Service Monitoring (HSM), a division of Stanley Works; GEM Sprinkler Co. and its parent company Tyco Fire Products LP (TPM); Arena Fire Protection Inc.; Microbac Laboratories Inc.; Project, Time & Cost, Inc.; and ACE American Insurance Co. over flooding caused by an alleged sprinkler malfunction which caused $4 million in damages to UNO's technical building on Canal Street in New Orleans.

John Maher Jr., assistant to the Louisiana attorney general, filed the original petition for subrogation on June 25, 2008. Maher was substituted as plaintiff counsel by Henry Provosty, Christopher Szapary, and Lena Giangrosso, special assisatans to the attorney general.

The petition for subrogation claims that all the defendants played some role in the malfunctioning of the sprinkler system in the UNO technical building and are all liable for negligence to some degree.

New Orleans attorney Andrew Vicknair, defense counsel for Tyco and GEM, filed a motion for summary judgment on April 1, 2010. It claims that the "plaintiff is unable to meet the burden of proof establishing a product defect" and that Tyco and GEM acted negligently in a way that led to its sprinkler system flooding the 12th floor of the UNO technical building.

An affidavit submitted by Manuel Silva Jr., the senior manager of development engineering for Tyco, was included with the motion. In the affidavit, Silva remarks about the integrity and design of Tyco's sprinkler heads and states that the sprinkler shouldn't be left "in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit" and notes that the UNO technical building was left abandoned for one year without air conditioning following Hurricane Katrina.

Another exhibit submitted with the motion shows temperature logs taken from the building's 12th floor indicating the temperature was in the high 90s to above 100 degrees in July and August of 2007. The flooding in question happened at the end of June 2007.

New Orleans attorneys Robert Kerrigan and Jonathan Walsh are representing Arena Fire and submitted a motion for summary judgment stating that their client should be dropped as defendants. The motion states that "sufficient discovery has been conducted" and has shown that its equipment "worked exactly as it was intended."

UNO is claiming that Arena Fire is liable for negligence after a worker installed a new fire pump for the UNO technical building and failed to reactivate flow switches it had disabled in order to test the pump. Arena Fire denies any claims that it tampered with the building's sprinkler system.

On May 6, 2010, plaintiff attorneys filed a motion to amend Arena Fire's motion for dismissal to only a motion for dismissal with prejudice.

Baton Rouge attorney John Heinrich is representing Honeywell International and HSM. UNO is claiming that HSM received a "troubled" signal when the sprinkler system was set off in absence of fire and didn't send out an engineer until the next business day. This decision resulted in the sprinkler system to run uninterrupted for a full weekend before it was discovered.

In its answer and defense, HSM claims that the flooding happened as a result of UNO's improper use of the sprinkler system and that "any recovery is barred" as a result of UNO's own negligence.

Covington attorney Michael Pulaski is representing Microbac Laboratories.

New Orleans attorney David Salley is representing Project, Time & Cost.

New Orleans attorney Campbell Wallace and Metairie attorney Valerie Theng-Matherne are representing Stanly Convergent Security Solutions.

Orleans Parish Case 2008-06697

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