Judge: M.U.D., digging company responsible for 2016 explosion, fire in Omaha’s Old Market

M’s Pub was destroyed after an explosion ignited a fire fed by a gas line that remained active for 90 minutes
A Douglas County district court judge rules who was to blame for the explosion and fire of M’s Pub in the Old Market six years ago.
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 4:17 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A Douglas County District Court judge ruled Thursday on who is to blame for the 2016 explosion and fire at M’s Pub in the Old Market.

Judge Timothy Burns decided that Omaha utility company M.U.D. was responsible for 50% of the damage, with North Central Services culpable for the other half.

The two-week trial took place in February.

The January 2016 fire started with an explosion. Minutes before that, a number of people inside M’s Pub smelled gas and so did those who lived above the restaurant.

All along, M.U.D has argued that it wasn’t at fault, but the judge said it was.

“The District recently received a copy of the Court’s Order. The District is deeply disappointed in the Court’s findings including its allocation of fault. The District’s legal team is currently reviewing the Order and is considering all options available to it at this time.”

Statement from Metropolitan Utilities District

Firefighters have said they could have stopped the fire if not for the constant fuel source. The gas kept pouring into the basement of the historic building; it took Metropolitan Utilities District crews 90 minutes to turn off the gas.

An abandoned gas line closer to M’s Pub had caused confusion.

Remember, the state fire marshal had ruled that M.U.D. did not adequately mark the gas line on the sidewalk – when a fiber optic digging crew from Minnesota struck a gas line while digging in January of 2016.

“It’s ludicrous that it took this long. It’s been six-and-a-half years since the fire,” said Attorney Anne Marie O’Brien with Lamson Dugan & Murray law offices. “I’m thrilled for Vera Mercer and M’s Pub to finally get their justice.”

There will be another trial to determine damages.

A judge ruled M.U.D. responsible for 50% of the damages.

Because there is a $1-million cap on damages in Nebraska per party, it’s possible MUD will be on the hook for at least a total of $2 million for the Mercer family and M’s Pub.

The digging company that was also 50% at fault has already settled the damage claim.

M.U.D. had previously argued it was immune from such a lawsuit, but five years after the fire, the Nebraska Supreme Court allowed the lawsuit to proceed.

In the civil trial in February, a utility expert from Texas questioned M.U.D.’s method for marking the gas line, which the state fire marshal determined was hit by Minnesota digging crews installing 5G fiber since the gas lines had not been adequately marked.

That gas built up inside the basement of the Mercer building at 11th and Howard streets and not just at M’s Pub; a number of businesses and apartments were destroyed.

The raging fire left all but a shell of the buildings. It’s remarkable that no one was killed.

Read the judge’s bench order

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