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Sh340m claim over Nakumatt fire damage set for full hearing

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Fire fighters battle the inferno that gutted Nakumatt Downtown in Nairobi in 2009. Photo/FILE

A Sh340 million claim against Nakumatt supermarket chain arising from a 2009 inferno that razed the retailer’s Kenyatta Avenue outlet in Nairobi is set to proceed to full hearing on Wednesday.

Owners of the building are seeking compensation for the damage caused by the fire resulting in its demolition, in addition to rent they would have collected over the period.

The property owner, Woolworths (no relation to South Africa’s clothing and home wares retailer), sued Nakumatt in 2012 after Concord Insurance, with whom they had insured the building against fire, declined to pay for the damage.

Despite later on agreeing to compensate Woolworths, Concord Insurance was placed under receivership, and the window within which the property owners could file their claim closed. Since the company was under receivership, it was also not possible for it to be sued.

Woolworths’ lawyer, Sundeep Sarvia was Monday not ready to proceed with the matter when it came up for hearing before High Court judge Jacqueline Kamau. The hearing was initially to take place over two days, Monday and Wednesday.

Both Nakumatt and Kenya Power have declined to take responsibility for the fire that saw 31 people killed, and have accused each other of negligence that caused the fire. Nakumatt had in its defence blamed the power suppliers for disruption of supply on January 28, 2009.

Investigations into the matter indicated that the fire was caused by a generator explosion.

“Power disruption was reported to Kenya Power at 10:37am. Technicians were sent to repair and restore supply of power. As soon as power supply from Kenya Power resumed there was a massive explosion of the generator and subsequent fire broke out destroying the business premises,” said Nakumatt director Atukulmar Shah.

READ: Nakumatt shifts Sh330m fire claim to Kenya Power

Woolworths had accused Kenya Power of supplying electricity to the building in an unsafe manner and allowing an electricity surge to be transmitted to Woolworths House.

Kenya Power in its response blamed Nakumatt for installing the generator in an unsafe place, and for failing to install a mechanism to prevent fire.

“Nakumatt were negligent in failing to ensure that there was proper wiring for the generator or the equipment on the premises,” said the power supplier in its reply.

The power supplier further told the court that Woolworths was not entitled to compensation for the damage to the building that saw it demolished.

Nakumatt had in 1995 signed a 20-year lease with Woolworths, and had operated the Nakumatt Downtown branch on the premises until the fire burned it down.