Insurer Files Lawsuit After Hampton Beach Fire

April 1, 2013

The insurer for a business at New Hampshire’s Hampton Beach has sued a utility, saying a February 2010 fire that destroyed a block of businesses was sparked by an electrical glitch.

The suit says before the fire, an electrical fault occurred in a line owned by Unitil. It says the fault caused an electrical conduit, which was attached to the Surf Hotel, to heat up and spark the fire.

The Portsmouth Herald reports the suit was filed in Rockingham Superior Court on behalf of Lloyd’s of London. The insurer seeks reimbursement of nearly $33,000 paid to Decalomania, a clothing business. The suit says water pumped during the fire damaged Decalomania’s assets.

Unitil was reckless and breached its duty to use reasonable care when maintaining the electrical line, the insurer alleges in the lawsuit. Unitil also had exclusive control over the service lines and poles, while Decalomania did not cause or contribute to the fire, the suit says.

Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said the utility company is aware of the lawsuit, is reviewing it and “will be responding in the courts.”

Fire officials say the cause of the fire remains unknown.

“We know the area of origin, that was clear,” Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver said. He described that area as the rear underside of the Surf Hotel.

The fire began before midnight on Feb. 25, 2010, as the region bore the brunt of a slow-moving winter storm that unleashed heavy snow, rain and hurricane-force winds across the Northeast. More than 1 million homes and businesses lost power.

The highest wind reported during the storm was 91 mph – well above hurricane force of 74 mph – several miles offshore from Portsmouth.

The block of five, wood-frame buildings – including the Happy Hampton Arcade and Mrs. Mitchell’s Gift Shop – burned until the early morning hours of Feb. 26. All five of those buildings were declared a total loss, while a dozen other buildings were damaged. Some businesses, such as Mrs. Mitchell’s, rebuilt and re-opened.

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