Burrito blaze prompts University of Michigan lawsuit
Call it the case of the flaming burrito. The University of Michigan has resorted to suing a student to collect damages for a dormitory fire started two years ago by a microwaved burrito.
But the university bears no ill will toward the student and is simply trying to collect appropriate compensation from the insurance policy held by the student’s parents, University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.
“This is action that the university is taking reluctantly to try to resolve a matter that should be handled by his parents’ insurance carrier,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said the university has been working with the student, his parents and the insurance carrier to try to resolve the matter, but the case reached a point where litigation was the next logical step. Now that the lawsuit has been filed, the student and his parents can turn the case over to the insurance company, Fitzgerald said. He declined to name the insurance carrier.
The fire that led to the lawsuit broke out about 3 p.m. Jan. 24, 2010, in the Cross House of the Baits II residence hall on North Campus, media reports at the time said. The student, Chethan Reddy, was heating a burrito in foil and a Styrofoam container, the lawsuit states, when the foil caught on fire.
Reddy took the burrito out of the oven and carried it outside, throwing it in the snow to put it out, the lawsuit states. When he came back to the room, it was on fire. The fire engulfed the room and spread to the hall, the lawsuit states. The Ann Arbor Fire Department extinguished the blaze, “but not before Room 3112 and other parts of the dormitory were damaged or destroyed,” the suit states.
Cross House, one of several free-standing buildings that make up Baits II, was not equipped with sprinklers, so firefighters used a hose to extinguish the fire, media reports said. The dorm was equipped with an alarm system, which functioned properly, Fitzgerald said.
The university had to replace furniture and fixtures in Reddy’s room and furniture in another room, the lawsuit states. It also incurred costs for repairing damage in the hallway, for cleaning and restoring the damaged areas, for repairing the alarm system and for storing the property of displaced students, the lawsuit states.
Costs amounted to $139,392.46, the lawsuit states. The university is seeking to recover that amount as well as interest, court costs and reasonable attorney fees.
“This is certainly not action taken to punish anybody,” Fitzgerald said. “This is action taken to encourage the insurance company to live up to its responsibilities.”
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Contact Cindy Heflin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2572 or follow her on Twitter.