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Posted on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Burrito blaze prompts University of Michigan lawsuit

By Cindy Heflin

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.”

View Baits II in a larger map

Contact Cindy Heflin at or 734-623-2572 or follow her on Twitter.



Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

My child's dorm room was partially burned, and all of the rooms located on this floor were smoke and water damaged. This fire cost all of us thousands of dollars to clean/repair/and mostly replace all of our student's clothes and belongings. Not to mention the inconvenience of having to relocate. We are happy that no one was injured, and grateful to the fire department for their quick actions and U of M for taking care of everything after the fire. We really would have appreciated an apology from Chethan. We know the real story of his actions, and it is our opinion that he panicked and did not act in a responsible manner. This all could have been avoided.


Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 1:25 a.m.

Doesn't U of M have insurance?


Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 1:21 a.m.

Both parties are to blame. The school for not having sprinklers installed in the dorm. And Reddy for not knowing that foil, nor Styrofoam should be used in a microwave. He got into Michigan but I guess that shows just because you're book smart doesn't mean you have common sense.


Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 12:11 a.m.

Glad to see his parents are teaching him accountability, he'll fit in well in our glorious nation.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

foil? AND styrofoam?!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

Perhaps UM ought to sue Mary Sue Colman for hiring RR and demand she pay back the generous compensation she gave him. He cost UM a lot more than a burrito fire did.

Scott Hankins

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

Does this mean we can Sue the UofM for "Shaking us Down" Every year for "Donations" for the "Priveledge" of purchasing football tickets? How much money is enough for a TAX exempt organization?


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

I'm curious how old the student was when the incident occured. I know that once a person reaches 18 they are considered legal adults. A school/university has to have a release signed by the student to share grades etc with the parents. If the student was of legal age, why are the parents and their insurance involved?

Adam Schubatis

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

The damages were probably covered by the student's parents' homeowner's insurance, which typically provides renter's insurance to college student children who are living at school. Also, I believe the dorm rent agreements hold the parents as either a cosigner or guarantor on the room. They would be responsible for any amount their child was unable to pay.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

Presumably the parents chose to purchase an insurance policy for their child - they weren't required to, but they did. The University isn't suing the parents, they are suing the kid and the insurance company - who purchased the policy for the kid isn't really relevant. Of course, if there was no policy, the University would be stuck suing the kid (good luck collecting anything) - there is pretty much no way that they could sue the parents of an adult.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 7:41 p.m.

Ok, it was an accident. The student and his parents are cooperating. So why do you have to print this kid's name? Was it really necessary to identify the poor guy?


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

@ A2centsworth Re: "The school has some Gaul suing the parents." Well, I don't know if their lawyer is French or not... But the U is following the right course of action, and it doesn't sound like the parents have a problem with it -- their kid screwed up, but that's what they have insurance for. I'm sure they are fine with paying their deductible, which is their responsibility. If they never taught their kid about microwave use, it should come straight out of their pocket. But if they feel the kid should have known better, they can always make him pay the deductible.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

I'm sorry. I can't get over the headline...Burrito Blaze Prompts Lawsuit...Thanks for the laugh,!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 6:45 p.m.

I thought the only issue with Mexican food was a "hot tamale".


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

It seems what they are basically saying here is that all our children who go to the university of Michigan and live in the dorms are at risk. If there are no sprinklers in this dorm, that puts our childrens safety is a big concern. How many other dorms are fire traps? The school has some gaul suing the parents. Was there a sign on the microwave indicating foil should not be placed in it? These are kids living in the dorms, who for the most part are living away from their families for the first time. Some have never cooked for themselves before. To assume they know that foil cannot be used in a microwave is faulty thinking. The spokesperson for the school is trying to make it sound like they are only suing the insurance company, but in reality this effects the parents premiums, credit rating and has a domino effect. I think every parent that has a child in the University of Michigan dorms that do not have a sprinkler system should sue the school for putting their children at risk. For what the school charges to house students in those closets they call dorm rooms they can certainly afford to pay for the damages!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

I think every parent that sends their child to the U of M should BE sued for putting their child at risk. Parental neglect!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

"Was there a sign on the microwave indicating foil should not be placed in it?" Please tell me you are kidding. Please. If your kid doesn't know that foil doesn't go in the microwave, you deserve to be sued.

Nels Eriksson

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

I'm enthralled by this story... prime Pulitzer material right here!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

I imagine tuition is so high for her she had to buy a cheap off brand microwave. So really it's the universities fault


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

Perhaps the F.D. should send a bill to the student.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

We're just lucky the burrito wasn't found in a tree near a school, that could have been extremely harmful.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

good one! Is it me or is Ann Arbor a ridiculous town!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Its only fair. If you had a rental property and your tenant did this type of damage, you'd expect to be reimbursed for the damages. Just because the landlord is a university and not a private party doesn't mean they aren't entitled to compensation. On the other hand, I'd really like to see an itemized bill for the almost $140k in damages that UM is claiming. Are you telling me it cost the same amount to restore a dorm room as it does to build a small house?


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 5:53 p.m.

students in the dorms are not required to get renters insurance. When my kids lived there it was not even mentioned on any of the forms, nor was liability mentioned.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

It does if there are granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances ; )


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 2 p.m.

Putting foil in the microwave: That's the Michigan difference.

Ron Granger

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

No sprinklers in a dorm? Really? I hope my comment does not blame the victim university in this case.

Cindy Heflin

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

The dorm is an older one that did not have sprinklers; however sprinklers will be installed as part of a renovation of the dorm to be completed by 2013. You can find information about that renovation here: <a href=""></a>


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

I agree, no sprinklers???? How long ago was it inspected? How old is the bldg?


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

He took the burning burrito out and put it in the snow. Sounds like he did the right thing. However, putting foil in the microwave was dumb to start with, but how many of us haven't done a dumb thing before? (Ye who is without sin may cast the first stone..) Why shouldn't the student not be required to pay over $100,000? Because he couldn't and they will never collect. The University would ruin his credit rating and perhaps his life. All over a burrito. This is why we have insurance. Insurance companies buy our risk and have to pay when bad things happen. That is the purpose of insurance. If we are going to make individuals pay, then why even have insurance companies?


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

I have always been told you can sue, win and yet, when it comes to compensation? You have to figure out that one because the judge did his job. He does not have to figure out how to get you to fork over the money. This is how those creditors who buy defaults try to get you to pay em. They can't. This is going to be one long drawn out court case.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

@Jim Osborn Re: Where is the sense of personal responsibality? People tend to get all bent out of shape about this type of story, but that is the reason, the only reason, for insurance -- so that an individual won't get wipe out by an accident. Stupid accident? Sure. A lot of accidents are. But it wasn't intentional. And if you are so all-fired into personal responsibility, by all means cancel all of your insurance policies, and go cowboy!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

Didn't Shakespeare mention this in &quot;King Henry VI?&quot;


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:40 p.m.

How long are we, as a civilized society, going to bear the price in resources and humanity of exploding burritos. The horror. The horror.

Jimmy McNulty

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:23 p.m.

Help me understand why the parents are liable in this case. (In all seriousness) Were the parents guarantors for the child's dorm contract? To what insurance of the parents is the article referring? Homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, or another type of policy? Doesn't the university have its own insurance policies for this paid for from dorm contract proceeds?

5c0++ H4d13y

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

They signed the policy?


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

@Craig Lounsbury: First comes up with a Slow Day story, then you come up with a Slow Day comment! Sheesh! It sounds like a pretty normal case, actually -- all the parties are cooperating except for the insurance company, which should be paying. That is the whole purpose of insurance; that is why we buy it.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

&quot;First comes up with a Slow Day story, then you come up with a Slow Day comment! Sheesh!' and you just came up with a Slow Day comment to a slow day comment to slow day news story.....Now I'm commenting to a slow day comment to.....

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

If nothing else Chethan Reddy will arguably have bragging rights to the most expensive microwave burrito in history.

say it plain

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Yeah, and that foil was pretty pricey too...they don't usually come with microwave-ready-food ;-)

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

This is America for crying out loud. The parents need to hire a lawyer and sue the Burrito maker and the Microwave manufacturer. In fact I'm thinking of calling a lawyer...I haven't been able to sleep since I read this story.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

This sounds like a really bad science experiment gone horribly wrong. We are going after our insurance to pay for an urgent care visit that ended up being charged as ER care. Go figure. It is resolved but still what a nightmare for all involved.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

LOL, and sue the foil manufactured for STILL not figuring out a way to safely put foil in a microwave ~sarcasm~


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 11:53 a.m.

LoL, on the grounds of complete stupidity? Aluminum foil+microwave=fire. Any elementary school student knows this.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 10:42 a.m.

Are there no laws that require sprinklers in residence halls? What about fire extinguishers? If there are no laws, then did the university still not put students in unnecessary danger by not having sprinklers? How many other residence halls have no sprinklers. Is the University self insured and is this why they don't just submit this to their insurance company? Why is the students insurance company denying responsibility? If they are denying coverage then why would a lawsuit be defended by the insurance company? It sounds like the UM is trying to have its cake and eat it too. They say they are not after the student because that would be bad PR but if the insurance company continues to deny coverage then it is the student's family that will have to pay.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

meant to say cried wolf.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Brad My bad I meant to say extinguishers.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

&quot;Where does it say there were no sprinklers?&quot; Seventh paragraph, first sentence. Specifically: &quot;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.&quot;


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

&quot;It sounds like the UM is trying to have its cake and eat it too.&quot; How so?? Sounds like they are looking out for their interest as you would! &quot;If there are no laws, then did the university still not put students in unnecessary danger by not having sprinklers? How many other residence halls have no sprinklers.&quot; Where does it say there were no sprinklers? One could just as easily JUMP to this conclusion! Why didn't the student USE the fire extinguisher hanging there? GEESH!


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

Laws, especially those governing safety in dwellings, are constantly changing. I suspect that Baits was built before sprinklers were required. As is the case with most such codes, structures alreay built were grandfathered so that updates are not required unless the structure undergoes a major renovation. Baits does have fire extinguishers and they are well maintained, as they are in all Housing units. As for being self insured, why should insurance companies be liable for acts committed by those for whom they do not act as agents? The U is right in this case to expect compensation form the offending party.


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 10:37 a.m.

It would have cost less if they had appropriate sprinklers in the dorms. However, any damage caused by students should be their responsibility to repay for the damages.

5c0++ H4d13y

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 12:47 a.m.

Really? I'm not so sure. Water damage for an entire floor of a dorm costs how much?


Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 10:22 a.m.

This is not uncommon for universities and is only fair. The student caused the damage and the cost shouldn't be spread to others. This fire was foreseeable and avoidable. But I will see the cost looks a little high.