Propane Company’s Failure to Locate Leak Causes Gas Explosion and Severe Burn Injuries
On March 29, 2012, AmeriGas Propane, LP sent two service technicians to establish propane service to the Gazos Grill Restaurant in Pescadero, California. The restaurant was closed for business but the restaurant’s cook, plaintiff Jeff Hare, was let the AmeriGas employees into the building.
After the AmeriGas technicians hooked up the new propane tank, however, they detected a propane leak. California law and industry standards require propane suppliers to investigate and repair known leaks. One method of locating a propane leaks is to pressure check isolated sections of the gas piping until the leak is isolated.
Hare alleged that the AmeriGas employees incorrectly assumed that the leak was from an open appliance pilot without performing a thorough investigation. Hare contended that these technicians missed significant warning signs that should have indicated to trained professionals that the leak was substantial and posed a serious risk of bodily harm or death. Hare further alleged that after allowing the propane to leak for several minutes in the kitchen, a technician handed a lighter to Hare indicating the kitchen’s gas appliances were safe for him to light.
When Hare clicked the lighter, the propane gas that had accumulated in the kitchen suddenly ignited and engulfed Hare’s upper body and face in flames. Hare was airlifted to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. He sustained first and second degree burns to his face, arms, and hands. He ultimately required 800 square centimeters of skin grafting to his left arm.
The AmeriGas employees denied any responsibility for Hare’s injuries. AmeriGas contended that its employees followed company procedures and that Hare caused his own injuries by attempting to light the gas appliances before its technicians had completed their safety check. Hare secured evidence, however, that the AmeriGas technicians did not intend to further investigate the leak, had started lighting pilots themselves, and that they had withheld their knowledge of the leak from fire investigators.
Hare made a full recovery from his burns with the exception of residual scarring. Hare sought $353,000 for past medical expenses, $15,000 for future mental health counseling, and general damages for pain and suffering.