PLANTATION, Fla. – It happened on July 6, 2019, when people working out inside an LA Fitness center went running as they thought the building was going to collapse.
Windows were shattered and debris was scattered throughout the area and parking lot at the Market on University shopping center on South University Drive after a vacant pizza shop exploded and left behind what look like a war scene. A nearby pediatric dentistry building was completely destroyed and an educational center luckily did not have children inside because it was closed for the July 4th holiday.
Residents reported feeling their homes shake from several miles away and some nearby homes had some of their windows blown out.
Now, six people injured in an explosion and their attorney are saying that they are tired of being put off by insurance companies for the property owner and the gas company and they are filing lawsuits.
Attorney Sam Coffey, representing five people who were inside the L.A. Fitness at the time of the explosion on July 6, 2019, and one man inside a restaurant, told Local10.com that the lawsuits are necessary since the insurance companies for the property owner and the gas company have been “unwilling to try to negotiate settlements with the people injured in the explosion.”
23 people were transported to a number of different local hospitals; two with severe injuries. No one died in the blast.
According to the Plantation Fire Department (PFD) and Plantation Police Department (PPD), plus the Bureau of Fire Arson and Explosives detectives, Hiep Van, owner and operator of Pho Brothers restaurant, inside the plaza, reported the smell of gas around 11:18 a.m. on Saturday, July 6, 2019.
It was ultimately concluded that the cause of the explosion was an open natural gas valve at the vacant PizzaFire Restaurant at 1041 S. University Dr. Investigators said that a valve to the gas line on the rear of the vacant building left "to the fully open position." Investigators closed the case on Dec. 10 after determining the cause.
Coffey said there was gross negligence on behalf of the gas company for leaving the line open. He said that auctioneers started a foreclosure after PizzaFire vacated the premises. “They sold off the gas stoves and someone took the stove away.” The valve was left open from the wall. Coffey said a $2 gas cap or a lock meter could have averted what could have been an even bigger disaster. “Due to the amount of gas that was recorded, it was most likely an open or broken gas line that permitted the unrestricted flow of gas into the building,” Coffey said in his filing.
Investigators determined that the incident was caused by an explosion of natural gas going into vacant PizzaFire building while electrical from the air conditioning unit was the source.
"The gas was able to enter the structure due to an open unrestricted gas line. Either the ball valve at the rear of the business or the ball valve on the top side of the meter was turned on the day of the incident," investigators concluded in a statement.
Coffey said he learned the air conditioning was left on because a real estate agent was showing the space to prospective renters.
"Everyone has been trying to work to settle the cases," said Coffey. He said the insurance companies keep putting off the negotiations. "In May they move it to June, in June they move it to July. Now we're ready to settle this. It's been a year. They have been unwilling to sit down and talk to us," Coffey said.
Dash cam video retrieved from a mini van in the parking lot near the LA Fitness showed the explosion at the former PizzaFire Restaurant. The blast was so intense it cracked the vehicle’s windshield.
Coffey is seeking damages for Dominic and Teri Dattilio, Carolina Sassi, Genevieve Manzoni, and Amanda Furar. They were all inside the LA Fitness. Toang Luong was inside Mister Pho restaurant.
The attorney said his clients are still recovering from physical injuries. “These were people who were healthy before, working out in a gym around the Fourth of July, now they don’t have that aspect of their life.” He said many are still recovering from orthopedic injuries, suffer from constant tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears from the loud blast, and post traumatic stress disorder from the shock of the blast.
Coffey’s lawsuits on behalf of his clients mentioned that when auctioneers disconnected and loaded the gas kitchen equipment for the purchaser at the auction, they did not have the knowledge, training and experience to do so. Coffey’s lawsuit names BestBuyAuctioneers.com in the lawsuit as well as Locust Gardens, Edens Limited Partnership, property managers and a leasing company, and Peoples Gas Company.
Other victims from the blast also are involved in separate lawsuits with other attorney firms.