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Explosion Lawsuits – Propane, Gas, And Flammable Product Fires

Since 1958, The Beasley Firm has fought for injured people and the survivors of wrongful death, recovering over $2 billion for our clients through hundreds of multi-million dollar settlements and jury verdicts. From the infamous Pier 34 collapse to a major gas explosion at a PECO plant to a major fire in public housing, The Beasley Firm has been in the heart of catastrophic litigation for over 30 years, and have obtained numerous seven and eight-figure recoveries for our clients.

Explosion lawsuits are among the most difficult cases to litigate and to prove at trial because of one simple fact:  most of the key evidence has been destroyed and sometimes the key witnesses have themselves died in the blast.  As a matter of common sense, the mere fact of an explosion anywhere is enough to suggest negligence — because it means someone did something unsafe — but that isn’t enough under the law to prove that a particular gas company, product manufacturer, or employer is liable.

Under the law, the injured person or their survivors bear the burden of proving that the explosion or fire was the result of the defendant’s negligence; proving those facts requires perseverance, legal creativity, and the expenditure of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars. To win an explosion case, a plaintiff needs a law firm that can thoroughly investigate the facts, develop the right legal theories that will last through trial and appeal, and invest thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Underlying Causes Of Most Explosions And Major Fires:

In our experience, most explosions are the result of these three causes:

  • Unsafe handling of propane, natural gas or gasoline, like transporting flammable liquids in non-approved containers or failing to regularly check and service gas tanks;
  • The failure to have an adequate fire protection program at a workplace, apartment building, or office building, such as not having enough fire extinguishers or smoke detectors, or failing to keep them in working order; or,
  • Defectively manufactured appliances or heavy equipment that lose their pilot light or break, causing a leak of flammable gases.

Below are discussions of some of the common fire hazard and explosion cases we see in our law practice.

Liquid Propane Explosions At Residences, Businesses, And Construction Sites

Four out of five United States families own a grill, most with a propane tank, and on a typical day U.S. firefighters respond to four home structure fires in which liquid propane gas was the first material ignited and thus the cause of the fire.

Propane is in use throughout most construction and industrial sites, from fuel in converted vehicles to heating fixtures for outdoor work to forklifts in use at warehouses.  Propane, though, is a volatile and dangerous gas that must be treated with extreme caution at all times.  One problem we have noticed is that, because propane gas use is so widespread, employers and homeowners can drop their vigilance about its storage and maintenance, thereby either causing leaks or cracks and thereafter failing to recognize them.  Propane is heavier than air, and so, when it leaks, it doesn’t generally disperse into the atmosphere, but instead starts to collect in low, enclosed areas.  Once that accumulation has happened, it doesn’t take much to ignite an explosion; something as small as the spark from a metal pipe dropped on concrete can do it.

Maintenance is also a key issue with propane. Despite widely available propane safety recommendations, many propane tank manufacturers failing to warn customers about proper storage and maintenance of the tanks, and the steps that need to be taken when propane is going to be stored outside or in unheated areas during the cold weather.  Similarly, on many worksites there is no training at all for the safe handling and operation of propane, leading to hundreds of propane explosions at construction, industrial, and other commercial sites every year.

Natural Gas Explosion From Breached Pipes, Leaks In Homes, And New Construction Leading To “Odor Fade”

Most residences and businesses have a natural gas pipeline, for use in a huge variety of appliances, like water heaters, grills, gas lights, ovens, dryers and generators. On a typical day, U.S. firefighters respond to six home structure fires in which natural gas was the first material ignited and thus the cause of the fire.

In our experience there are three main types of natural gas explosion cases:

  1. Cases in which either a construction company failed to assess the location of a gas pipeline before digging, despite very specific OSHA guidelines requiring that all underground installations be located before excavation, or the gas company gave the construction company erroneous advice;
  2. Cases in which a home appliance failed, such as by its pilot light going out or the pipes cracking, thereby creating a natural gas leak; and,
  3. New building construction, where the new pipes end up absorbing the odorant added to the normally odorless and colorless natural gas in a process called “odor fade.”

In each of these situations, the injured person usually has no reason to suspect there is a problem until it’s too late.  In these types of lawsuits, we hold responsible the gas company, the appliance manufacturer, or the companies that fail to warn contracting workers of the risks.

Residential Fires are Often Caused by Dangerous Upholstery or Defective Smoke Detectors

People cause small fires in their own homes. It’s a fact of life. The manufacturers and sellers of household goods like couches and appliances know that, and so are supposed to consider whether their own products pose a foreseeable fire hazard.  There are many examples in which a small fire in an apartment or a home turned into a raging inferno as the result of an unsafe piece of upholstery or dryer or other appliance that acted as an accelerant, burning at an unusually fast rate and at an unusually high temperature as the result of chemicals used in building the consumer product.  In these types of situations, the manufacturer may be responsible for contributing the fire with their unreasonably flammable consumer good.

Similarly, homes and businesses across the nation rely on smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to warn them of fires before they spread too far.  Yet, in many cases — including a public housing case that we successfully litigated to an $8 million verdict — smoke detectors are either never checked or were defective the moment they were put in, and so they failed to alert occupants to the fire before it’s too late.

Millions of Gas Cans are Defectively Designed, Exposing Their Users and Children to Fire Risks

Gasoline in real life doesn’t burn the way it looks in the movies — there’s no slow trail of fire, but rather a quick explosion, and all it takes is a small amount of fuel vapors to trigger an explosion.  The manufacturers of portable and plastic gas cans know about those risks and know that their cans leak vapors that can ignite off of flames even several feet away, but to this day the major gas can manufacturers have refused to install flame arrestors — which are nothing more than a cheap, thin wire mesh in the spout — that prevents flames from entering into the gas can and igniting the whole can.

Tragically, because plastic gasoline cans are often left in unprotected areas like sheds and garages, children can sometimes access the gasoline cans when pretending to do the same outdoor and household chores they see their family members do.  Each year, dozens of children are severely burned while trying to “refuel” lawnmowers and cars and other gasoline-powered devices by pouring the gasoline on top of them, creating a fire risk.  The major plastic gasoline can manufacturers, like Blitz USA, Midwest Can, Scepter Manufacturing, and the Plastics Group, have known about these dangers, and in 2008 the Children’s Gasoline Burn Prevention Act required all new plastic gasoline containers come with a child-resistant safety cap, but today millions of old plastic gas containers are still out there in homes, in places accessible to children.

Let us put our over 50 years of experience to work for you today.

If you or a loved one was injured in an explosion or a fire, call our injury lawyers for a free, confidential consultation at 1-(888) 823-5291, or use our online contact form.