One September 13, 2018 there was a disaster involving gas lines exploding that killed one person, injured some 25 others and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. The incident occurred in Massachusetts and affected three small towns in a localized Merrimack Valley area. The tragedy occurred without any warning and the effects are still being felt and being dealt with almost 2 months later as Columbia Gas Company works to deal with the fallout, lawsuits, and damages from the explosions.
Federal investigators who have been looking into this deadly natural gas explosions have uncovered some surprising details about the gas company and the events that led up to the incident. They are blaming faulty work orders given to the work crews by the local utility. The investigators say Columbia Gas failed to instruct the workers to deactivate pressure sensors when taking an old cast-iron gas main out of service. “When those sensors detected a drop in gas pressure in the decommissioned main on Sept. 13, the system automatically increased the pressure in the new, plastic gas main. Within minutes, houses across Lawrence, Andover and North Andover began to explode from a buildup of natural gas” (Massachusetts Natural Gas Explosion).
This is still being investigated and there has still been no official statant or resolution to this but this is currently the consensus for what happened and what brought about the conditions that lead to the explosions.
As the investigation into the incident as well as a further investigation into the practices of Columbia Gas has uncovered other information that is of great concern and that is also fuelling many of the lawsuits that are coming out as a result of this incident. Columbia Gas seems to have been associated with three previous gas line blasts based on a review of federal and state records and court filings. “The links emerged as Columbia Gas of Massachusetts scrambled to provide assistance and information to residents of Lawrence, North Andover and other Merrimack Valley communities after [the] tragedy… The history of other accidents also came as the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation that showed Columbia Gas pipes in the area of the explosions had been over-pressurized. The Massachusetts tragedy has renewed public focus on the safety of natural gas pipelines and the companies that own and maintain them. Through its subsidiaries, NiSource had links to at least three gas line explosions in three states during the last six years, including another blast in Massachusetts.” (USA Today).
The lawsuits stemming from this incident are based on concerns about negligence and a lack of maintenance and care from Columbia Gas. Some of the victims are claiming that the explosions occurred due to the company’s lack of proper training, attention, maintenance, and concern for its customers and the general public. This is the basis for much of the legal trouble that is stemming from the disaster- negligence and a blind eye.
Impact on businesses
As if losing a home is not enough, these tragic events have had negative impacts on local businesses as well. Several residents have been unable to continue operating due to the loss of their home-based business operating locations. Many storefronts have not seen consistent business as the fires and their presumed risk of happening again have destroyed the local tourism industry. These business owners have the right to seek damages for the loss of their business during these times as local governments have also diverted traffic away during the cleanup efforts.
Columbia Gas response to the tragedy
Since the days immediately following the explosions, Columbia Gas has been working to clean up and repair the homes and businesses that were damaged and destroyed. However, things are not progressing as quickly as the victims would like and delays have happened and work has been slowed to a crawl. State officials and Columbia Gas announced right before Halloween that they are pushing back the utility’s original deadline to restore all heat and hot water to homes and businesses in the Merrimack Valley to Dec. 16. Originally, the victims in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover were supposed to have everything back up and running by Nov. 19. The utility said obstacles like having to make repairs to old housing have caused delays. Lawrence’s serving Mayor, Dan Rivera, said in the meanwhile Columbia Gas needs to do better at taking care of the people affected. “They need to cut checks faster,” he said.
“The amount of time people are waiting to get reimbursed for items that they are spending every day and that businesses are waiting to get their lives back in order is unacceptable” (WBUR).
This is another issue that is starting to creep up in some of the legal cases as well and is being pushed heavily in some of the cases and proceedings that have come about since the explosions occurred.
Can I Pursue legal action?
To learn more about this incident and the related cases and to get the latest updates and reports and to see if you may have been involved in an incident involving Columbia Gas or its affiliates contact our office. We, along with the Raimondo Law Firm, and with local counsel, Brian Cunha and Associates, have been researching the legal implications of this incident and are waiting to speak to you about your experience with Columbia Gas and their service. We would love to speak with you and review your case and answer any questions that you may have. So call now and make an appointment and see what legal course is right for you and your family and what your next steps need to be!