More than a dozen premises liability lawsuits have been filed in the wake of a massive gas explosion that destroyed part of a South Florida shopping center last year and injured 23 people.

The surge of lawsuits started to develop after the Florida Bureau of Fire and Arson and Explosives Investigations determined that a gas valve had been left open in a vacant PizzaFire restaurant that had closed its doors months before in a Plantation, Florida, shopping center.

Natural gas from the open valve continued to fill the abandoned restaurant, effectively forming an invisible bomb that detonated when the thermostat of the unit’s air conditioning system turned on.

The blast destroyed the restaurant and other buildings in the shopping center, which included a Publix grocery store, a Carrabba’s Italian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, and an LA Fitness gym, among others. Most of the businesses were forced to close after the blast while the shopping center was rebuilt.

The plaintiffs include a couple who was exercising inside the LA Fitness gym when the gas explosion ripped the building apart, showering them with glass and other debris, and a man who was walking from the gym to his car and suffered major hand and ankle injuries.

“This is like sitting next to a roadside bomb in Iraq,” one of the lawyers involved in the litigation said, according to Law.com. “But they weren’t in an armored Humvee with a helmet on. They were in a gym.” The sprawling premises liability lawsuits span more than 14 law firms.

Lawyers probing the blast pieced together what happened using information from the state’s investigation, dashcam video footage, drones, and witness statements.

The explosion happened after a company removed a gas-powered pizza oven from the property. Lawyers involved in the litigation say that a gas valve had been left on around 7 a.m. on July 6, 2019, allowing natural gas to flow into the building and accumulate. They say that a $2 cap should have been put on the gas line to prevent such an accident from ever occurring.

“We think that this is worthy of punitive damages because it’s grossly negligent to allow an uncapped gas line to flow into a building and explode a building in downtown Plantation,” a lawyer representing one of the victims told Law.com. ”The fact the landlords, from December until July, didn’t go into the building and say, ‘Hey, there’s a gas line without a cap or a valve on it,’ or call a plumber in there or simply put on a $2 cap, is outrageous.”

Lawyers also point out that a children’s coding company near the blast site had been closed for the long holiday weekend. Had the owners chosen to keep the location open that weekend, “a whole bunch of children … would have been killed,” a lawyer told Law.com.

Companies named as defendants in the premises liability lawsuits include Locust Gardens LLC, the landlord; Edens Limited Partnership, the property manager; Peoples Gas System and Tampa Electric Co., the utility providers; and Best Buy Auctioneers.com Inc., the company that removed the pizza oven from the restaurant.

Beasley Allen has successfully handled a number of premises liability cases similar to the one described above, and we are prepared to investigate any cases where severe injury or death results. For more information or to discuss this type of claim, contact Mike Crow or Ben Locklar in our Personal Injury Section.

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