Restaurant where flaming dessert burned customers is suing its insurance company

PALM HARBOR — Ozona Blue, the restaurant where a woman received third-degree burns after a flaming Bananas Foster dessert erupted last month, is suing its insurance company.

The restaurant's insurance company, Wilshire Insurance, claims there was a gap in the restaurant's insurance coverage, starting the day before the fire and ending the day after.

But Ozona Blue contends the policy was in effect at the time of the fire, which also injured three other people.

Katie Hudgins, 25, was dining with her fiance's family June 11 at the restaurant at 125 Orange St. N. The table ordered two helpings of Bananas Foster, a dessert of bananas sauteed in butter and ignited with rum.

As a server poured 151-proof rum into the pan, the flaming liquor spread across plates and ignited Hudgins' dress. In a statement to investigators, Hudgins' fiance, Jimmy Rogers, 25, wrote "alcohol from bottles was poured in skillet as it was on fire, fire shot up and surprised waiter and he pulled bottles back sprayed alcohol on people."

Some recipes for the flambe dessert caution against pouring the liquor from a bottle, as fire can travel into the bottle. According to an investigative report from the fire department, restaurant employees cleaned up all evidence of the accident and could not tell investigators how the server poured the liquor.

Witness Nick Salzer, a cook at the restaurant, told investigators the flame traveled back into the "liquor bottle," creating "an explosion of fire," the report said.

Although the restaurant's insurance policy indicates that the policy was supposed to be in effect until Oct. 26 of this year, Wilshire contends the policy was cancelled one day prior to the fire and reinstated the day after the fire, the lawsuit states.

Ozona Blue's owner, Debbie Fragale, was unavailable for comment Friday.

Hudgins and Rogers were dining with Rogers' parents, Patricia Rogers, 56, and Raymond Rogers, 60, as well as a close friend, 58-year-old Jacquelyn Williams of Tampa.

Hudgins, an elementary school teacher from Dunedin, was treated for third-degree burns at Tampa General Hospital. Patricia Rogers was hospitalized for treatment of respiratory burns, and Jimmy Rogers and Williams suffered minor burns. Raymond Rogers was not injured.

Jimmy Rogers said Friday that Hudgins has been discharged from the hospital.

"She's got a long, tough healing process going on," Rogers said.

Katie Park can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or kpark@sptimes.com.

Restaurant where flaming dessert burned customers is suing its insurance company 07/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 8:28pm]

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