Fires and explosions, though rare, can cause horrific injuries and death. Unfortunately, victims are generally innocent bystanders whose injuries could have been prevented with proper care from the responsible party, including utility companies, product manufacturers, contractors or landlords. While monetary compensation won’t take away the pain, a successful lawsuit can ease financial burdens and provide relief from stress caused by the fire or explosion.
Parties can be held liable for fires and explosions caused by a variety of factors:
- Natural gas is brought in to homes and businesses through underground pipes that are controlled by gas companies. In St. Louis for example, Laclede Gas Company is the provider. If the gas company does not maintain pipes in a safe manner and gas leaks out causing an explosion, the company can be held liable for the resulting injuries and damages. Gas companies can also be liable if the gas explosion was caused by a defect in their property, such as a bad regulator, meter or deteriorated or corroded pipes.
- Construction crews and contractors regularly work around underground natural gas pipes on construction sites, as well as pipes within homes and businesses that are connected to appliances. If they cause an explosion by negligently puncturing or breaking one of those pipes, they can be liable for damages.
- Faulty equipment and appliances fueled by propane, gasoline or natural gas, can also produce a gas explosion. Such appliances include gas grills, water heaters, furnaces, dryers, gas ranges, generators, and more. When this happens, the manufacturer of the equipment could be liable for damages.
- Fires can result from faulty wiring in a building, defective smoke detectors and inappropriate escape mechanisms. In such cases, owners or landlords can be held liable for injuries.
- Explosions from the use of dynamite or other explosives on job sites can be caused by construction crews and contractors. An employer is liable for all injuries that happen to employees while on the job and claims are covered through workers’ compensation.
Catastrophic burns and painful injuries resulting from fires and explosions can oftentimes lead to significant disfigurement and disability or death. At Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum, we understand the trauma that these victims and their families go through after an accident and work to bring hope and comfort to our clients. As an explosion and fire law firm in St. Louis, we have the experience needed to fight complex cases against large utility companies and product manufacturers who cause harm.
Notable Fire and Explosions Cases
For Gene Keller, a construction worker injured during the 2005 expansion of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport runway system. He and a co-worker were seriously injured when a dormant piece of dynamite exploded after they were instructed to drill into it. The stick of dynamite had misfired two days prior and the crew on site failed to neutralize the stick by washing it from the hole. When Keller arrived for a later shift his drill encountered the undetonated dynamite and it exploded. The case settled with the engineering company overseeing the blasting.
A confidential settlement for the family of a college student who burned to death from a fire while in a fraternity house at the University of Missouri St. Louis. The local chapter of the fraternity was found to have broken multiple housing policies, including those pertaining to indoor smoking and fire detectors.
A confidential settlement for a man who was severely injured on a construction site after dynamite caused a major explosion.
What should I do if I smell gas in my home or office?
The accumulation of natural gas is a potentially dangerous condition. Gas companies add an odorant to help warn people of its unwelcome presence in an environment because the gas does not have a smell in its raw form. Contact a local gas company at the first smell of fumes and leave the premises if at all possible.
What should I do if I smell smoke in my home or office?
As the saying goes, where there’s smoke there is fire. If there is ever a possibility that you smell smoke, immediately exit the building and call 911 or the local fire department.
While many factors can lead to the start of a fire, there are steps that can be taken to help reduce chances of fire and to increase the possibility of early detection should one occur. First, have your electrical wiring inspected periodically. Then, conduct regular tests of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are functioning properly. Last, change the batteries in your detectors every six months.
Can I file a claim?
Anyone who suffered an injury or property damage due to a fire or explosion can file a claim. If the injured person is a minor, then the parents or legal guardian can file suit on his or her behalf. In the case a loved one died in a fire or explosion, the suit could be considered a wrongful death lawsuit and the appropriate surviving family member, generally a spouse, parent or child, can file the claim.
What can I expect if I file a lawsuit and how long will it take?
Immediately after a fire or explosion, a detailed investigation is performed by fire investigators, pipeline specialists or engineers. If there is a natural gas explosion, the public service commission for Missouri or Illinois will also conduct an investigation, as well as the local fire department. Additionally, it is common for parties involved in a lawsuit to conduct an independent investigation to ensure that the most thorough examination has been undertaken. These investigations should occur as early as possible after a fire or explosion to determine what caused the fire, explosion and/or the gas leak, and may take approximately six months to complete.
After the investigative agencies provide reports, they will be reviewed to determine if there is a case. If the law firm determines there is a valid case, a lawsuit is filed and the litigation process begins. Litigation includes written discovery, depositions of witnesses and experts, settlement negotiations, and sometimes mediation. If a fair settlement can’t be reached during this time, then the case will go to trial. The full process can take a few years, depending on the availability of court dockets and the complexity of the litigation. Clients are typically required to attend their deposition, mediation and the trial.
Is there a deadline for filing an explosion or fire lawsuit?
Both Missouri and Illinois have deadlines in which a plaintiff must file a lawsuit, known as “statutes of limitations.” In Missouri, the statute of limitations is five years from the date of the fire or explosion. In Illinois, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the incident. There are some exceptions to these deadlines, for example in the case of a death in Missouri the statute of limitations is three years. An attorney can best determine the correct filing deadline after reviewing the facts of an individual case.
What type of damages can I recover after a fire or explosion?
Depending on the type of fire or explosion and corresponding injuries, a person can recover a range of damages, including:
- Past and Future Lost Wages
- Medical Bills
- Property Damage
- Emotional Trauma, Pain and Suffering
- Permanent Effects, Disfigurement and Disability
If I’m injured in a fire or explosion, what should I save?
When involved in a fire or explosion, it is important to collect and keep track of all documents related to the injuries and events leading up to the incident. For example, keep a list of health care providers, collect medical bills and receipts of work performed, locate the names of local gas providers, and identify the construction crews on the job site. Photographs of the injuries and the product or area immediately after the explosion are also helpful, if available.
Is there a case if I was injured because I didn’t handle or store a gas product properly?
It is always recommended to follow all safety warnings and instructions from a manufacturer in order to prevent injuries. However, if the improper use of the product should have been foreseeable to the manufacturer, there may be a products liability case. An experienced fire and explosion attorney can review the facts of a specific case to determine if there is a claim.
How much does it cost to file a lawsuit?
St. Louis fire and explosion law firm Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum always keeps our clients’ best interests in mind, which is why we work on a contingency fee basis. That means, we don’t collect attorneys’ fees unless we recover damages for your case. When clients receive financial compensation, they pay a percentage to the firm along with any costs incurred to litigate the case. Our mission is to hold the parties that caused pain to our clients responsible and we seek the maximum settlements and judgments allowed to help make our clients whole again. If you or a loved one has been injured in a fire or explosion in Missouri or Illinois, contact our office today for a free and confidential legal consultation.