A telecommunications company facing a slew of lawsuits in the deadly July 10, 2018 downtown Sun Prairie natural gas explosion has filed for bankruptcy.
Abigail Barr sued Bear Communications LLC. and its contractors after her husband, Sun Prairie firefighter Cory Barr, died in the blast. A police officer and a firefighter who were injured in the explosion, and more than 25 residents who lost their homes and possessions are suing the company for negligence.
The City of Sun Prairie has also taken the company to court seeking more than $623,000 for repairs, security, and other explosion-related costs.
Kansas-based Bear Communication filed Chapter 11 papers May 28 in United States Bankruptcy Court-District of Kansas. In court documents, the company estimated its assets between $10-$15 million and liabilities between $50-$100 million, with exact totals not provided.
Chapter 11 will allow the Bear Communications management to be in control of the company with the court overseeing negotiations with creditors. The filing is expected to impact the lawsuits against the company.
The July 2018 gas explosion, centered at the downtown Sun Prairie intersection of Main Street and Bristol Street, killed Cory Barr and destroyed or damaged homes, apartments and businesses.
Federal, state, and local investigators of the July 2018 explosion determined that a miscommunication between Bear Communications, Jet Underground, VC Tech and USIC, the company that originally located the utilities and marks them, led to gas line marking errors during a fiber optic installation project.
No criminal charges were filed against Bear Communications LLC. and the other companies.
Attorney Michael R. Fox represents more than 25 Sun Prairie residents who lost their homes and possessions in the explosion. He said many were emotionally and psychologically impacted.
Fox said Bear Communications Chapter 11 filing could be a strategy to deal with the Sun Prairie explosion lawsuits.
“We look at this as a strategy by Bear Communications to lessen its exposure and lessen its personal assets, but we don’t think it will be successful,” Fox said. “In this case, there are so many defendants that are potentially liable we believe if Bear Communications bankruptcy deflects its liability, it will be covered by other defendants.”
Fox said the Dane County Circuit Court lawsuit against Bear Communications, VC Tech, USIC Locating Services Inc. and We Energies is currently in the discovery phase until the end of July.
Mediation is scheduled to see if the case can be settled out of court.
A trial date is scheduled for April 2022.