Time Warner Loses Appeal Over Explosion That Destroyed JJ’s Restaurant In Kansas City

Nov 21, 2017

This story was updated at 1:59 p.m. to include a comment from the owner of Time Warner Cable.

Time Warner Cable remains on the hook to pay $3 million in damages for the explosion that destroyed JJ’s Restaurant after an appeals court on Monday upheld the judgment.

The Missouri Court of Appeals rejected the cable company’s arguments that the court wrongly instructed the jury and improperly admitted expert testimony.

The explosion on Feb. 19, 2013, leveled the restaurant building at 910 W. 48th Street on the west side of the Country Club Plaza, killed restaurant employee Megan Cramer and injured 15 people. 

At the time, a Time Warner contractor was installing underground fiber optic cable for the Plaza Vista project, now the home of the Polsinelli law firm, just across the street from JJ's. The boring drill struck a high-pressure natural gas line, causing natural gas to escape. The gas migrated into JJ’s where it ignited and exploded.

The restaurant and JJ’s Building, the owner of the structure, sued Time Warner for negligence. The jury found Time Warner 98 percent responsible and assessed damages at $5.9 million — $3.5 million for the restaurant and $2.4 million for JJ's Building.

The trial court, however, reduced the judgment to $3 million after offsetting settlements the plaintiffs had reached with Missouri Gas Energy, the utility that owned the natural gas line, and Heartland Midwest, the contractor that did the drilling.

JJ’s Restaurant and JJ’s Building filed their own appeal challenging the offset, but the appeals court found it was proper.  

In upholding the damage award against Time Warner, the appeals court ruled that the trial court properly instructed the jury that the trenchless technology used to install the fiber optic fiber was “inherently dangerous.”

Charter Communications Inc., which acquired Time Warner Cable in 2016, issued a statement saying it was evaluating its next steps and had no further comment. 

Dave Frantze, who with his brother Jimmy Frantze, owns JJ’s, said he was pleased with the decision.

“We felt all along our position was the proper one and hopefully, we’re a step closer to putting this behind us,” said Frantze, a real estate lawyer with Stinson Leonard Street.

The case was one of many lawsuits filed after the explosion, including one brought by Megan Cramer's parents. That case was settled out of court on undisclosed terms.

JJ's, a popular restaurant and bar that opened in 1982, reopened across the street in the Polsinelli building in November 2014. 

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.