The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released its report on a deadly gas pipeline explosion that ravaged a neighborhood outside San Francisco and killed eight people last year. The NTSB, after reviewing data and testimony presented at a meeting in August and over a year-long investigation, concluded unanimously that fault for the explosion lies with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), one of the largest gas companies in the country. The 140-page report issued by NTSB contains thirty-nine safety recommendations directed not only at PG&E, but also pipeline operators and government regulators. Lawsuits related to the explosion are also preparing for trial next year.
The accident occurred in the early evening of September 9, 2010 in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, when a ruptured natural gas pipeline owned by PG&E exploded with sufficient force to make some first responders, residents, and media think an earthquake or plane crash had just occurred. The explosion caused a fire that destroyed thirty-five houses and damaged many more. Three more homes were later deemed too badly damaged and were demolished. The blast created a crater 72 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 40 feet deep. In all, eight people, mostly neighborhood residents, died in the explosions or from burns.
The NTSB’s report describes a “litany of failures” by PG&E and failures in oversight by government regulators, according to a Bloomberg report. It says the problem began over 50 years ago, when PG&E installed substandard pipe with poor welding, then subsequently failed to conduct tests and inspections that would have identified problems in advance. It further blames an inept response by PG&E for the severity of the destruction. PG&E control room operators allegedly did not relay information on the source of the fire to emergency responders or 911 operators, causing responders to still think they were dealing with a plane crash. The absence of emergency shut-off valves on the pipeline also allegedly prolonged the fire considerably.
PG&E’s problems with pipeline explosions do not end with the San Bruno incident. The California Public Utilities Commission approved a record $38 million fine against the company last week for a Christmas Eve 2008 explosion in Rancho Cordova, outside Sacramento. That blast killed one person, injured five, and destroyed a house. A utility employee and a firefighter were among the injured. The fatality was the elderly owner of the destroyed home. The owner’s family reached a confidential settlement with PG&E in 2009. An investigation found that, during a repair in 2006, PG&E installed the wrong kid of pipe in the gas line. It also found that PG&E responded too slowly to a report of a leak the day of the explosion.
A set of ninety-five lawsuits related to the San Bruno explosion, encompassing over three hundred plaintiffs, is set to go to trial on July 2, 2012. A San Mateo County Superior Court judge ruled in September that the lawsuits should proceed to trial as a group. The judge created eight categories of suits, including wrongful death, serious bodily injury, and others. Lawyers must select one case from each category to best represent that category, with plaintiffs’ and defendants’ lawyers each choosing a case in each group.
People who have been injured due to negligence or unsafe conditions on property may have rights to compensation for their injuries, and the Washington DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen can help. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
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DC Personal Injury Accidents are a Common Cause of Brain Injury, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 31, 2011
Washington DC Construction Accident: Worker Nearly Buried in Trench Dies, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 25, 2011
Maryland Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed by Families of Two Coal Miners Killed in 2007 Mine Collapse, Maryland Accident Law Blog, April 21, 2010