Natural Gas Explosion Settles for $1.5 Million

Note: The recoveries in these cases are not necessarily indicative of recoveries in similar cases in the future, since each case must be decided on its own facts and circumstances.

Walter H. Emroch and Thomas J. McNally represented a four-year-old girl injured by a natural gas explosion. The plaintiff was visiting her grandmother when she and two other small children were playing near a sewer manhole. One of the children with her dropped a lighted match into the sewer manhole, resulting in an explosion that literally blew the manhole cover off the hole.

As a result of the explosion, she sustained first- and second-degree burns to her legs, requiring hospitalization for nine days. She underwent split-thickness skin grafts, which were harvested from her thighs. As a result of the burns, she incurred permanent scarring to the burn sites and to the skin grafts sites. There were no future medical expenses claimed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff incurred medical bills totaling $40,487.06.

During discovery, it was learned that several months earlier, city workers had received a complaint of a gas leak on the block of the explosion. The city immediately responded and did not find a gas leak there, but did find a natural gas leak approximately 50 yards away in a sewer that ran underneath an abandoned street. Having determined that there was natural gas leaking into the sewer system, the city attempted to identify the source of the natural gas leak over the next 15 days. They found several leaks in the area and repaired them. However, even after the initial repairs were done, city officials still were aware that natural gas continued to leak into the sewer system.

The city’s defense was that the explosion was not caused by a natural gas leak but was from some other source of gas in the sewer system. Additionally, the city would have argued that it had taken all reasonable precautions to identify and fix the gas leak prior to the explosion.

The plaintiff’s gas experts testified that the old cast-iron pipes, which had been installed by the city more than 60 years prior to the explosion, were prone, over time, to develop leaks, and that this leak was foreseeable, particularly since the city was already on notice that the cast-iron pipes were leaking gas into the sewer system before the explosion occurred. The plaintiff’s experts also would have testified that fugitive natural gas is a well-known hazard and contact with an ignition source is particularly dangerous if the gas escapes into a sewer system.

The case settled one month before trial for $1.5 million.

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