A jury in California awarded $12.3 million to two men working as plumbers who were injured in an explosion three years ago when they tried to ignite a water-heater pilot light. The men, who were on the job, didn’t smell gas and their attempt to purge the line of air flooded a small water-heater closet with gas. The men suffered second-degree burns and were out of work for months. The suit stemmed from the absence of natural-gas odor prior to the November 2005 explosion at Porterville Adult School. Liquid odorant is put into natural gas so its presence can be detected, but the odor fades in new steel pipes such as those used in the adult school’s construction. It was proved that Southern California Gas was aware of “odor fade” for decades, but had failed to warn the public about it. Apparently, no gas company in the nation warns about this hazard because of the cost. When the pilot didn’t light the men purged air from the line. The attempt to light the pilot resulted in the room bursting into flames.

In addition to their burns, both men now also suffer from methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a staph infection. It’s a strain that’s resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it and can be fatal. Their most common symptom is periodic boils. The water heater, manufactured by the Bradford-White Corp, was inside a water-heater closet with a solid door and no ventilation. When the men entered, they did not smell gas.

Experts concluded there must have a been a gas leak or that the cap was left off for more than three minutes in order for enough gas to have accumulated to cause an explosion of the magnitude that occurred. The two men were blown backward and the door shut behind them. The force of the explosion blew the ceiling tiles off the roof above the closet and two adjacent restrooms. The school was evacuated. Experts with years of plumbing and engineering experience were brought in and most said the phenomenon of odor fade was unknown to them. Ken Fitzgerald, a lawyer from San Diego, California, represented the two Plaintiffs and did a very good job.

Source: Visalia Times-Delta

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