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Insurer alleges improper installation of sprinkler system in lawsuit over fire that destroyed Pa. building

Source:, April 26, 2017
By: Keith Gushard

A $5.2 million civil lawsuit has been filed in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas in connection with a fire that gutted the Titusville Towne Square building more than two years ago.

The 17-count lawsuit has been filed by Erie Insurance Exchange, as it was the insurance agent for Titusville Redevelopment Authority, and Melissa Bergman, a tenant of the Towne Square. Erie Insurance is suing architects, contractors and the owner of an adjoining building claiming negligence. No trial date has been set in county court.
The suit claims negligence and breach of contract by architects and contractors in the design and installation of an automatic fire sprinkler system on the fourth floor of the Towne Square building. The owner of an adjoining building is being sued for both negligent security of her building and general negligence for letting a March 17, 2015, fire spread from her building to the Towne Square building. The suit alleges the March 17, 2015, fire at the adjoining building rekindled and set the Towne Square Building on fire March 18, 2015.
According to the suit, Erie Insurance has paid out $5,246,662.15 in insurance claims so far and wants to recoup that money plus interest, attorneys’ fees and any other costs the court “deems just and proper.”
The suit targets Weber Murphy Fox Inc. of Erie, the architectural, engineering and project management company for the Towne Square renovation project; Karpinski Engineering Inc. of Canonsburg, Ruthrauff Inc. of McKees Rocks, and Rabe Environmental Systems Inc. of Erie, for their roles in the design, engineering and installation of the sprinkler system; Michael Lukasiak Construction, a general contractor who oversaw renovation to the fourth floor of the building; and Christina M. Schneider, who owned the adjoining property at 112 W. Spring St.
The suit claims the sprinkler system was improperly designed and installed since it failed to protect the void space above the fourth floor ceiling within the Towne Square building. The void space above the fourth floor ceiling had combustible roof joists and other materials, the suit claims.
The suit claims the sprinkler system did not comply with various state, national and international building codes, National Fire Protection Association standards as well as state law, and the building wasn’t properly protected.
The suit also claims fire walls and fire stops between the Towne Square building and adjacent buildings weren’t proper and code compliant and sufficient to prevent the spread of fire from adjacent buildings to the Towne Square Building.
The suit claims Schneider was negligent by allowing an unauthorized person to enter a second floor storage area of her building at 112 W. Spring St. on March 17, 2015, which caused or contributed to the cause of the fire that spread to the Towne Square building. The suit alleges Schneider permitted multiple juveniles to access the property without adult supervision.
The suit alleges Schneider used her building as a multi-tenant rental property without obtaining a permit and/or installing appropriate fire detectors and/or fire suppression system and that she failed to ensure that the initial fire at Schneider’s building was properly extinguished and not permitted to rekindle.
Tribune attempts to contact Schneider on Tuesday for comment were unsuccessful. A voice message was left at Schneider’s Titusville area residence on Mystic Park Road.
Michael Cremonese, attorney for Weber Murphy Fox, declined comment when contacted by the Tribune.
Tribune calls to Karpinski Engineering Inc., Ruthrauff Inc. and Kenneth T. Newman, attorney for Rabe Environmental Systems, weren’t returned.
Attempts by the Tribune to contact Michael Lukasiak were unsuccessful.

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