Merkel & Cocke recently had the pleasure of helping a family gain some small amount of justice for the injuries they suffered due to a propane explosion at their home. The path to justice was not an easy one, and we salute the family for persevering through a very difficult and lengthy process. It has taken three years, but in the end they have obtained the compensation they deserved for the injuries they suffered.
Their story begins on an ordinary day when the three children, ages 11, 7 and 6, board the bus for school. Their father, who was a farm employee, had already departed for work. As his wife was leaving the house with their infant child, she noticed the smell of propane gas coming from the rear of the house. She called her husband, who advised her that she needed to turn the valve off at the propane tank, which was located in the back yard. She followed his instructions and then left for work.
The father, wanting to make sure the gas was turned off came by later that day to check that the gas valve was off. At approximately 4:00 p.m. that day, the three older children returned from school. The oldest daughter began preparing an afternoon snack on the electric stovetop for herself and the other children. None of the children detected the odor of gas in the house. Suddenly, without warning, the house exploded.
All three children were severely burned in the explosion, but were able to escape the house. Merkel & Cocke was contacted by the family to help them out in this very trying time. On behalf of the family Merkel and Cocke sued the gas distributor, the gas wholesaler, the company that made the odorant and the tank valve manufacturer.
As might be expected, all four companies denied responsibility. Their first line of defense was that the explosion had not been caused by propane. This opinion, however, was totally contrary to the opinion of every fireman and fire expert who had been to the scene and evaluated the physical evidence, as well as the eyewitness testimony. In fact the companies’ own experts essentially backed off from this position during pretrial information gathering.
Investigation of the house revealed that the source of the leak was from an open valve located in the wall between the wash room and the kitchen. This valve was a second valve and one that the family did utilize.
During pretrial investigation, Merkel and Cocke was able to show that the gas distributor failed to conduct a gas check inspection which would have revealed the existence of the uncapped line. They further showed that the distributor’s records indicated one line into the house, when a casual inspection of the property definitively showed the existence of two lines which would be a red flag that an inspection should have been performed. A gas inspector testified that he was told by an employee of the gas distributor that he had installed the second line into the washroom. In addition, the distributor was in violation of several laws regarding the safe use of propane gas and further, was in violation of the Mississippi Propane Gas Association regarding inspecting a house when there is a change of occupants.
In order to prove their claims, Merkel & Cocke employed experts in the areas of propane gas; human factors engineering; propane odorant chemistry; economics; psychology; and various medical fields.
After three long years, the case was ultimately settled with three of the defendants for $5,335,000.00. Merkel & Cocke now intends to go to trial against the propane gas wholesaler unless those claims can be settled to the satisfaction of all parties. For more information about this case, contact Steve Cox with Merkel & Cocke.