Herald Sun
March 05, 2014

The resident of an apartment above Pizzeria Toro has sued the pizza shop as well as a kitchen equipment cleaning company for punitive damages related to a fire that damaged the apartment in early November.

The business and two others nearby were forced to close by the fire, which was the second at the shop in the year. The two other businesses have since re-opened, while Pizzeria Toro has not.

Two of three apartment residences are also reportedly occupied again.

According to previous reports in The Herald-Sun, Durham Fire Department officials had determined the November fire started accidentally around the exhaust duct from the pizza shop’s oven. There had been little damage from the previous fire in April that occurred in a kitchen ventilation duct and was quickly extinguished.

A lawsuit was filed in January in Durham County Superior Court by Jason Couch, an apartment resident whose apartment, according to the suit, was engulfed by fire.

Couch claims he’s entitled to punitive damages related to the fire. The lawsuit also claims that the resident suffered severe emotional distress.

The suit claims negligence by the shop and the company ExhaustClean, which was allegedly contracted to clean the shop’s fireplace, chimney and exhaust venting areas three weeks before the fire occurred. According to the lawsuit, the company notified the shop that there were inaccessible areas that it couldn’t or wouldn’t clean because they were blocked.

Paul Stam, Couch’s attorney, declined comment Wednesday. Attempts to reach the owners of the two businesses and an attorney representing them were also unsuccessful. A response is expected to the resident’s suit later this month.

According to an interview that took place weeks after the fire last year, Pizzeria Toro’s owner was waiting on a determination from insurance officials to begin renovations.

While the restaurant was closed, Pizzeria Toro staff donated their time to help cook at five community dinners to benefit charities in Durham.

Scott Harmon, co-owner of the Durham-based architecture firm Center Studio Architecture, said he’s working for the restaurant in getting building permits that would allow the reconstruction to move forward.

He said they’ve spent a “great deal of time” negotiating with city officials on reconstruction requirements.

“We are waiting on a few remaining engineering documents and will then submit for the building permit,” Harmon said in an email. “My understanding is that Toro desires to open as soon as they can complete the repairs, and fortunately they should be able to start renovations in a matter of a few weeks.”