Cylinder rupture kills two and prompts 20-million-dollar lawsuit
In 2018 a fire started at a residential property. It immediately got the attention of the neighbors, who started battling the fire with a garden hose. The residence on fire was using high pressure gas cylinders for a private business venture. The heat of the fire affected the gas cylinders stored on the property, and they began rupturing. Residences across the street reported broken windows from the force of exploding cylinders. Residents, miles away, stated they felt the effects of the exploding cylinders.
While the neighbors tried to help contain the fire, shrapnel and debris from the explosions came into their yard. Debris hit the male neighbor’s hand, breaking bones. A gas cylinder ruptured in the fire, flew across the yard, and struck his wife. The force of the striking cylinder killed the neighbor’s wife. The couple who owned the home, where the fire started, were also victims. The male homeowner died from the fire and his wife was hospitalized.
The fire and ensuing exploding cylinders destroyed one home, damaged others, injured two people and killed two more. It is unknown at this time how the original fire started. Eyewitnesses, responding firefighters and the fire Marshall all stated cylinders on site were exploding and added greatly to the chaos and catastrophe. The exploding cylinders caused so much damage that it was difficult to locate the initial cause of the fire.
The neighbor who lost his wife, due to the fire and subsequent cylinder explosions, filed a lawsuit against the homeowner/estate where the fire began. The initial lawsuit claims damages of at least 20 million dollars. The lawyer stated the lawsuit was started to further investigate the incident and its causes. The lawsuit claims that the homeowner/estate should have made the neighbors/victims aware of the dangers of the hazardous materials on their property.
During the Cylinder Training Service visual inspection course, we cover rules and regulations involving the handling, use and storage of cylinders. These rules cover facilities and organizations who use high pressure cylinders. The rules are designed to keep employees safe in a business environment. For those persons who use cylinders for private use, they believe that the regulations have no effect on them. This statement may be true. If an applicable law does not involve a private party, a government regulation may have no effect.
The situation in this tragedy brings to the forefront that any user of high-pressure cylinders should follow basic safety regulations. The private citizen may be immune from government investigators, but it does not stop a private investigation. If a private investigation reveals unsafe handling practices or negligence, they can take their case to civil court. In civil litigation the burden of proof is much lower than a criminal investigation performed by a government. If a civil court finds a person was negligent, the monetary fines can be extensive.
Following basic safe handling, storage and inspection procedures for high pressure cylinders does not protect an entity or person from litigation. However, if an incident occurs, and any investigation begins, following rules and regulations may show due diligence. Following the rules may not be a clear protection from litigation, but it may help lessen any damages or personal responsibility.
Horrible tragedies like the one mentioned are rare. But they can occur. It is hoped that everything possible was done preceding the event to maintain the cylinder in a safe condition following local rules and regulations. Following the rules does not guarantee a tragedy will not occur. However, following the rules should lessen the chance of a horrible catastrophic failure.