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September 1, 2014

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Restaurant destroyed by fire sues insurers

The Alias Smith and Jones Restaurant, which was destroyed by fire in 1996, sued two insurance companies and a finance company over the restaurant's lack of fire insurance.

The suit seeks unspecified financial damages to cover the restaurant owner's losses. Investigators estimated damage to the restaurant at $500,000 in the days following the blaze.

Old West Enterprises, doing business as Alias Smith and Jones Restaurant, sued Cragin and Pike Insurance, AFCO Credit Corp. and Western General Agency Inc. in Clark County District Court. The restaurant says it was denied coverage after the fire even though it paid its premiums.

The well-known restaurant on Twain Avenue was destroyed by fire Nov. 29, 1996, in what is still being classified by investigators as arson.

Old West alleges it was approached by Cragin and Pike Inc. in July 1996 about renewing its fire insurance with Northland Insurance Co. Western General is the general agent for Northland Insurance, the suit states.

A deal was reached in which AFCO Credit Corp. financed the purchase of the insurance, with Old West to repay AFCO in monthly installments, the suit says.

Old West says it was later notified by Cragin and Pike it had been overcharged and was due a $1,000 refund, which is more than the monthly payment. Because of that, Old West assumed it did not have to send a payment for the following month, October 1996.

Old West later found it did need to send a payment. AFCO, however, sent Old West a notice of cancellation.

"Although AFCO knew it had received the October payment as of Oct. 31, it did not immediately request that the policy be reinstated," the suit states.

Old West says it made its payment early for the following month, and asked that the policy be reinstated. However, it alleges AFCO failed to send the payment and request for reinstatement on to Western General, the agent for Northland.

By Nov. 27, Cragin and Pike faxed a request for reinstatement to Western General, the suit states. But after the restaurant burned, Old West was told by Northland Insurance that AFCO had cancelled the policy, the suit says.

The fire at Alias Smith and Jones Restaurant was preceded by two other fires Nov. 10 and Nov. 15 of 1996. The Nov. 29 fire took the lives of 64 cats and two dogs being held at the adjacent Animal Clinic of St. Francis.

Authorities are still trying to find the arsonist.

"It was determined to be an arson. We're still working with other agencies to find suspects," said Capt. Bob Leinbach, spokesman for the Clark County Fire Department.

Attempts to contact the defendants Wednesday for comment failed.

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