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Court Finds Gas Company Not Liable After Home Explosion

In a recent case, a Georgia appeals court determined a gas company was not responsible for a home explosion after the company’s employee left a warning card about a leak for the homeowner, and the homeowner disregarded the instructions on the note, causing an explosion. In November 2010, an explosion occurred in a detached apartment on the homeowner’s property. The owner had turned off the natural gas to the apartment and to his house because no one was living in the apartment and because he was not using it in the house. The owner then rented the apartment to a co-worker and asked the natural gas company to turn the gas back on.

ExplosionAn employee from the gas company came over, unlocked the meter, and turned the gas on. When he did so, he saw that the meter showed there was a leak in the fuel line or an open line, so he turned the gas back off. He did not lock the meter. He did not know at the time there was an apartment behind the house. He left a warning card at the house that explained the meter could not be turned on until a leak had been fixed. The employee noted on the card that the meter was off but was unlocked for a plumber.

The owner’s stepson’s girlfriend was home at the time and signed the warning card. The employee also said he left a card on the meter, although the owner said he did not see a card when he returned home. The owner explained that he saw the warning card but did not understand that he had a leak. The owner then asked a friend, who had done odd jobs for him in the past, to come turn his gas on. A couple of days later, the coworker moved into the apartment along with a friend. He ignited a lighter to light an incense, and there was an explosion that set the apartment on fire. The coworker and his friend were hospitalized for burns.

The coworker and his friend filed a claim against the gas company for negligence. They alleged the company was negligent for failing to close an open gas line, failing to lock the gas meter, and failing to sufficiently warn the owner. A Georgia appeals court dismissed the case and granted summary judgment in favor of the gas company. The court held that no jury could reasonably find that the company’s actions proximately caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. The court reasoned that the company’s failure to reinstall the lock on the gas meter did not proximately cause the explosion, since the owner’s and his handyman’s actions were a “new cause” that caused the explosion. The company could not reasonably foresee that the owner would ignore the clear warning and turn on the gas without fixing the leak. Thus, the company could not be held responsible.

Negligence and Intervening Acts

A claim based in negligence requires that a plaintiff establish the following elements:  duty, breach, causation, and damages. In order to show causation, a plaintiff must show not only that the defendant’s actions resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries but also that the defendant’s actions were a proximate cause of the injuries. The requirement to show proximate cause is based on the idea that in some cases, the link between the defendant’s conduct and the injuries may be too remote to say that it was the legal cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries.

Generally, if after the defendant’s act, there is a new intervening act that is sufficient to stand as the cause of the injuries, the defendant’s act is considered too remote. The defendant will be held responsible normally only if the intervening act was reasonably foreseeable.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

Serious injuries can take a toll emotionally and financially. At the McAleer Law Firm, we handle claims arising from serious or catastrophic injuries sustained in a wide range of accidents. Our firm is ready to fight for the rights of victims in the Atlanta metro area and other Georgia communities. Our personal injury attorneys can help you explore your full range of options and advocate vigorously throughout the legal process. Call the McAleer Law Firm at 404-622-5337 or contact us through our online form.

See More Posts:

Anyone Can be the Victim of Negligent Conduct — Jury Awards Doctor $7 Million after Slip-and-Fall Accident in Operating Room, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, March 2, 2017.

Plaintiff Receives $21 Million After Wife Suffers Catastrophic Brain Damage During Back Procedure, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, February 10, 2017.