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Walmart attorneys claim fire departments responsible for significant damage at Plainfield distribution center

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Posted at 4:41 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2023-03-15 18:50:18-04

PLAINFIELD — The Town of Plainfield has received notices from the attorneys representing Walmart that they plan to file claims for damages to its distribution facility in a massive fire in March of this year.

The tort claim notices claim that the response to the fire itself worsened the damage to the facility. Specifically, it says that at one point a responding agency requested that the sprinkler system be shut off.

"The sprinkler system pump(s) and/or riser(s) and/or the sprinkler system itself were consequently shut off and, at or about the same time, certain doors at the Premises were opened by a responding agency. The fire thereafter grew and worsened," the notices state.

The insurance companies representing Walmart claim that the total damages exceeded $150,000,000.

In the Indiana Tort Claims Act, there is a $5,000,000 damages limit. The claim acknowledges this.

The notices name Plainfield Fire Territory Chief Brent Anderson, Assistant Fire Chief Gregory Williams and Deputy of Operations Jeffry Dixon among the involved parties, as well as several other fire officials.

Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesperson, told WRTV that the company is "taking steps as required under Indiana law to preserve our rights during this ongoing investigation."

Stephanie Singh, the director of communications and marketing for the town, issued the following statement but declined to comment further because the litigation is still pending.

"The Town of Plainfield is proud of the heroic response by the Plainfield Fire Territory and the supporting services from all over central Indiana who risked their personal safety to protect lives. The safety and security of life is always the Plainfield Fire Territory’s highest priority. The Town of Plainfield and the Plainfield Fire Territory remains committed to providing fire and emergency medical services to the residents and visitors of Plainfield."

Certified fire investigator and prosecutor Peter Beering tells WRTV the decisions firefighters made on the day of the fire will more than likely be protected by precedent.

"[I'm] not hugely surprised with a loss this big that the insurance companies would seek to mitigate their loss," Beering said. "We want the fire department to respond. We want the fire department to not worry about liability questions, and so as a general proposition the tendency is to not hold fire departments responsible for bad outcomes."

With similar warehouse structures being built across Central Indiana, Beering thinks this could be a lesson other fire departments could learn.

"If you are in charge of a fire department, you have to be concerned about what that means if God forbid there's some sort of incident in one of these," Beering said.

In April, the distribution center was officially closed due to damages caused by the fire. Walmart said that as many as 1,132 associates who hadn't accepted alternative positions may be separated from the company by July 15.

The fire itself lasted more than three days. It started March 16 and prompted a response from at least 24 fire departments.

The departments and agencies listed in the claim (in alphabetical order):

  • Amo Fire Department
  • Bargersville Fire Department
  • Brownsburg Fire Territory
  • Carmel Fire Department
  • Coatesville Fire Department
  • Consolidated Indianapolis and Marion County
  • Danville Fire Department
  • Decatur Township
  • Greencastle Fire Department
  • Greenwood Fire Department
  • Hendricks County Fire Buffs
  • Indiana State Fire Marshal
  • Indianapolis Airport Fire Department
  • Indianapolis Fire Department
  • Jamestown Fire Department
  • Lebanon Fire Department
  • Lizton Union Township Fire Department
  • Madison Township Fire Department
  • Martinsville Fire Department
  • Monroe Township Fire Department
  • Mooresville Fire Department
  • North Salem Fire Department
  • Perry Township Fire Department
  • Pike Township Fire Department
  • Pittsboro Fire Department
  • Speedway Fire Department
  • Stilesville Fire Department
  • Washington Township Avon Fire Department
  • Wayne Township Fire Department
  • Westfield Fire Department
  • White River Township Fire Department
  • Whitestown Fire Department
  • Zionsville Fire Department

In a news release, the Wayne Township Fire Department directed inquiries to the law office of Thrasher Buschmann and Voelkel P.C. WRTV has reached out to the law office and are waiting to hear back.