Every month, a reader asks one of our sponsor legal experts about a work-related issue. These building trades law professionals respond in an Organized Labor exclusive. This month’s expert is Jeremy Cloyd of The Veen Firm.
There was a propane explosion at my jobsite and I was badly burned. My coworker may have sparked the explosion but we didn't know there was any gas in the area. I'm now out of work. Do I have any recourse?
You need to consult with both a workers compensation attorney and a civil attorney knowledgeable about standards and laws relating to the safe handling of propane gas. A workers compensation attorney can help you get medical treatment but the workers compensation system in California will not cover the full extent of your damages. A civil attorney can determine whether someone other than your employer should pay for losses not covered by workers compensation.
California and national standards require propane suppliers to use the utmost care to prevent the escape of propane gas. But they also have responsibilities to locate and repair leaks when they occur. For example, The National Fuel Gas Code, NFPA 54 (2012 Edition) section 8.2.3 provides: "Immediately after the gas is turned on into a new system or into a system that has been initially restored after an interruption of service, the piping system shall be checked for leakage. Where leakage is indicated, the gas supply shall be shut off until the necessary repairs have been made." A civil attorney who focuses on third party liability should be able to identify if someone else made a mistake that allowed the propane gas to escape or accumulate to levels that would allow for an explosion like yours.
The use of specialized equipment like combustible gas detectors and adherence to simple and inexpensive procedures to locate and isolate propane leaks might have been able to prevent your injuries. But propane suppliers and their services technicians do not always follow or are even familiar with these relatively simple processes.
While an odorant like ethyl mercaptan is typically added to propane gas, there are number of reasons why you may not have detected it: ambient odors often mask the odorant; some individuals have diminished senses of smell; and liquefied gas odorant can also fade naturally or even be adsorbed into gas piping.
-Jeremy Cloyd, Label Trial Team; The Veen Firm, PC“Interaction via “Ask the Expert” does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Any advice given is neither legal advice nor does it serve as a replacement for hiring an attorney. In addition, any case results mentioned or discussed are not guarantees of similar results.”
This Month's Expert; Jeremy Cloyd