Alleged dryer defects at center of lawsuits in Hadley shopping plaza fire 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

HADLEY — Almost four years after a fire ripped through a Hadley shopping center, former tenants and insurance companies are suing.

In three lawsuits, the plaintiffs take aim at the owner of the Hadley Coin-Op Laundromat, Richard Czarniecki, alleging his negligence led to the devastating fire on Oct. 27, 2013, which displaced a dozen businesses and two apartment tenants. The lawsuits were orginally filed last fall in Hampshire Superior Court and lawyers continue to gather evidence in the case.

The complaints also target Wisconsin-based Alliance Laundry Systems, LLC, the manufacturer of the Speed Queen gas dryer, and Illinois-based Robertshaw Controls Co., Inc., the manufacturer of an ignition device the plaintiffs say was improperly installed in one of the dryers.

Dino M. Colucci, a Milton-based attorney, is representing the Norfolk & Dedham Mutual Insurance Co., which paid out damages to the Casablanca Halal Market, and the owners of seven businesses in the former shopping center: Bahn Mi Saigon, Botanica Ramses, Casablanca Halal Market, College Computer Pro, International Market, Mohawk Revenge Tattoo and Chinese Kung Fu Wushu Academy. He also represents a tenant who lived in an apartment at the former plaza.

Boston-based attorney John J. Bromley is representing Peerless Insurance Co., the insurer for Norwottuck Inn Holding Co., which owned the shopping center.

The first lawsuit seeks $4.2 million in damages, but that could change during the discovery process, Colucci said.

In a second lawsuit, Mi Tierra restaurant seeks almost $300,000 in damages from Czarniecki, the machine and parts manufacturers, the property owner, and Encharter Insurance LLC.

Finally, Main Street Assurance Co., which paid out to the International Food Market, Wing Wong LLC and Greggory’s Pastry Shop, seeks $426,000 in damages.

In 2014, the Massachusetts State Police Fire Investigation & Explosion Unit determined the fire started in the laundromat, but did not pinpoint a cause.

“The fire started directly behind a bank of dryers in the laundromat, but there is not enough evidence to determine specifically which dryer was involved or the exact ignition source,” former state fire marshal Stephen D. Coan and Hadley Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel said in a joint statement in May 2014, following a seven-month investigation.

Attorneys for Czarniecki, of Springfield-based Robinson Donovan, P.C., did not respond to requests for comment. Christopher J. Sullivan, the attorney for Alliance, the dryer manufacturer, declined an interview request, but in an email pointed to the agency’s 2014 findings saying investigators did not find a cause.

Colluci, in an interview, acknowledged the fire investigation unit did not cite a cause, but said experts hired by his and other suing firms found one.

“After exhaustive testing, they made certain that there was a defect in one of the dryers,” Colluci said, adding a team purchased an example dryer and also examined the actual dryer that caught fire in the laundromat.

Colluci’s lawsuit asserts someone installed the wrong ignition module into the dryer, meaning 8,000 volts of electricity were sent through wiring equipped to handle 600 volts.

“The resulting overvoltage condition caused the wiring insulation to breakdown and degrade over time, and ultimately led to the arcing event,” the lawsuit states. The fire was also sparked by Czarnieki’s and his company’s alleged “negligence in allowing excessive amounts of lint to build up and around their dryers.”

The lawsuit continues on to say Alliance and Robertshaw, the ignition device manufacturer, should have known or did know about the risks with installing the wrong ignition module.

Aaron Rachelson, Vice President and General Counsel for Robertshaw, told the Gazette Thursday his company found in June the ignition module in the dryers was not Robertshaw’s.

“Our product was not in the dryer at issue,” he said.

The litigation is in its early stages. Colluci said it could stretch far into 2019 before the lawsuits are resolved.

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.