Ruling says lawsuit against MUD in Omaha fire can continue

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Supreme Court is allowing a lawsuit to continue against an Omaha natural gas utility for a 2016 fire that destroyed part of the downtown Omaha’s Old Market.

The ruling Friday affirms the finding of a lower court that rejected Metropolitan Utilities District’s request for summary judgment to be excused from the lawsuit.

The lawsuit stemmed from an explosion and fire sparked Jan. 9, 2016, when construction workers struck a natural gas line in front M’s Pub restaurant in the Old Market. Gas leaked into the basement of the building and exploded, destroying the building that included other businesses and homes. The Nebraska Fire Marshal’s Office later issued a report saying Metropolitan Utilities District workers didn’t properly mark the natural gas line that was breached, sparking the explosion and massive fire.

Property owners sued various contractors and MUD, and eventually settled with all defendants except MUD, which held that it was immune from the lawsuit.

The lower court and Nebraska Supreme Court justices disagreed, noting that MUD was required under law and its own policies to ensure that lines were clearly marked, that the gas was to be immediately shut off by MUD in the event of a gas fire and to ensure that abandoned gas lines are properly abandoned. Plaintiffs in the case say MUD failed at all three.