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Understanding Natural Gas Explosion Liability

May 4, 2015

Natural gas is an extremely important fuel source, but also highly flammable, because it is composed mostly of methane and other flammable hydrocarbons. Natural gas explosions are deadly events that can destroy homes and forever change lives and families. At Estey Bomberger, our personal injury attorneys have advocated the unique needs of gas explosion victims who have suffered burn injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and other catastrophic injuries or wrongful death caused by preventable gas line explosions.  We understand the many ways gas explosions can affect families – from causing serious injury, to leveling their homes and causing unimaginable financial devastation.

2010 San Bruno Natural Gas Line Explosion

On September 9, 2010, at least four people were killed and 50+ people were injured in a natural gas explosion in San Bruno, CA. Within hours after the explosion, a natural gas leak was suspected to be the cause of the explosion.  A review of public records indicated that PG&E, the owner of the 24 inch pipeline that exploded, has had 19 significant pipeline incidents since 2002, resulting in one death and three injuries (not including the September 9, 2010 event, which injured dozens).  The event came 10 years after another major event in New Mexico involving a pipeline owned by El Paso Natural Gas instantly killed six people near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Significant Pipeline Incidents

In 2005, Congress established the arguably very underfunded Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) to oversee pipeline regulation and safety. According to PHMSA records, in 2009 there were 265 “significant incidents” in the U.S. pipeline system, resulting in 14 deaths, 63 injuries and more than $152 million in property damage. A Significant Incident is defined as an incident when any of the following consequences occur:
•   Fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization
•  $50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollars
•  Highly volatile liquid releases of 5 barrels or more or other liquid releases of 50 barrels or more
•  Liquid releases resulting in an unintentional fire or explosion.

Who Is Responsible for a Natural Gas Explosion?

With any main gas line explosion, a thorough investigation is required to determine the source of the explosion, usually a leak in a gas tank, gas valve or gas line. If an explosion is caused by a leak in a gas line, the utility company may be liable for negligent maintenance or inspection of the line or safety code violations. Depending on the sequence of events that causes a natural gas explosion, more than one party may be responsible for an explosion and resulting fire, including the utility company or in cases of home explosions, the manufacturer of a water heater, central cooling system, generator, range, oven or cooktop, or dryer. Liability may be attributed to whoever is responsible for an explosion.

Experienced Advocates for Injury Victims

Because they don’t happen often, many personal injury lawyers are unfamiliar and inexperienced in handling the unique liability issues of natural gas explosions. It is important to choose a lawyer with the knowledge, experience and financial resources to obtain the maximum compensation you deserve from whoever is responsible for the gas explosion and the devastation and pain it caused you and your family. After any life-changing event, choosing the right legal representation can make the difference between full and fair compensation, and no compensation at all. The California personal injury law firm of Estey Bomberger has received the highest possible AV-Rating from Martindale-Hubbell, a testament to our level of legal skills and ethical standards, Both Estey Bomberger founding partners, Steve Estey and Mike Bomberger were selected 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 “Super Lawyers” by Law & Politics Magazine.