WILLMAR — An insurance company waited too long to file civil litigation against a construction company it alleged was negligent in causing a fire that destroyed the wooden roof of the 1705 building on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar in October 2013.
In a decision released Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a Kandiyohi County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit by Safeco Insurance against Holmgren Building Repair Inc.
Safeco had failed to file its lawsuit with the court within one year of having served the lawsuit on Holmgren Building Repair, and consequently failed to meet the rules of civil procedure, the District Court had ruled.
According to the decision, Safeco Insurance paid out $771,726.42 to its policy holder for the damage caused by the Oct. 14, 2013, fire. Holmgren Building Repair Inc. had been removing old steam pipes from the former state hospital building to prepare it for renovations.
An investigator hired by Safeco concluded that a Holmgren employee used a chop saw to cut steam pipes. Hot embers emitted in the process smoldered in cellulose insulation and caused the fire, according to the court record.
Safeco alleged that Holmgren Building was negligent, and on Oct. 26, 2017, it served a summons and complaint on Holmgren Building through the Secretary of State. Holmgren did not respond.
The insurance company emailed the summons and complaint to Holmgren’s counsel in June 2018. In subsequent emails to Holmgren’s counsel, the insurance company agreed to allow time for adjusters to negotiate.
Safeco filed its summons and complaint with the District Court on March 12, 2019. It needed to have filed the case with the court by Oct. 26, 2018, to meet the rules of civil procedure.
According to the court record, Holmgren claimed it had been waiting for a response from Safeco’s claims department regarding a settlement offer — $254,000 — for nearly two years.
The Court of Appeals noted that in correspondence between the potential litigants, there was no specific stipulation made to extend the deadline for filing the lawsuit.
“Indeed, there is no language expressing that both parties agree to extend the one-year deadline to file the action,” the court stated in its memorandum accompanying the decision.
The owner of Holmgren Building Repair dissolved the company in 2016.