A gas explosion recently destroyed a house in Jeffersonville, Indiana, killing a homeowner and severely injuring his wife and two neighbors.
The damage was of such magnitude that several homes and a portion of the adjacent road have remained closed for weeks following the incident.
As residents were unable to return home while the Jefferson Fire Department’s investigation was ongoing, one of them referred to the explosion as “surreal . . . hard to take in.” Although it may take months for investigators to reach an official conclusion as to what caused the tragedy, Jeffersonville Police Lt. Isaac Parker said in a statement that, “About 12 hours prior to the explosion, there was an increase in flow of natural gas to the residence.”
Vectren Energy, the company that provided gas to the property, quickly tried to divert responsibility away from itself, stating that the increased gas flow had come from inside the home and not from its pipelines. Besides establishing why gas levels increased, investigators will also focus on what may have caused the gas to ignite.
The owners of the devastated Capitol Hills home were Bill Phillips (50), who was killed in the explosion, and his spouse, Janet Phillips (45), who suffered life-threatening injuries.
One of the residents who still cannot return home, Kendall Browning, told reporters, “I mainly think about Janet Phillips and Billy Phillips. He passed away from the explosion and she was burned pretty badly. Her life has obviously been turned upside down. That’s worse than what I’ve had to deal with. My heart goes out to them and I wish them the best.”
Browning and his family were not injured because his house was being remodeled and was uninhabited at the time of the explosion. “Most of the stuff I worked on is gone from the percussion of the explosion,” Browning commented. “It popped the toilet apart upstairs and water shot everywhere and it fell in from two places in the ceiling. It collapsed into the downstairs. There’s a lot of cracks and structural issues. I’m not really sure what all of it is.”
According to a statement by the City of Jeffersonville, the increase in natural gas levels “continued up to the time of the explosion. At approximately 4:54 a.m., an unknown source ignited the natural gas inside of the residence, causing the explosion.” Aside from Janet Phillips, who suffered severe burns, two of her neighbors were also injured, though their lives were not at risk.
Residents of the condemned houses have voiced their concern about being unable to access their property and not having received any confirmation as to whether their insurance providers will cover the damages.
Why Houses Explode
According to Robert Jackson, an energy and environmental science professor at Stanford, whose academic work involves analyzing faulty gas networks all over the country, over-pressurized pipelines can potentially cause explosions. When the pressure increases, testing the capacity of pipelines, this can lead to gas leaks and, ultimately, explosions.
In one likely scenario, Jackson recently told The Atlantic, excess pressure could cause gas to leak into homes where, for example, a pilot light could ignite it causing whole buildings to be blown apart. When it comes to establishing the cause of such tragic events, the researcher said, “somebody made a mistake. To flip the wrong valve, leave a junction open. Human error is the most common source of natural-gas explosions.”
Finally, Jackson said, old installations can also be a factor. Old valves may leak or break, he explained. According to his research, replacing old pipelines has been known to reduce gas leaks by 90 percent.
Considering that many gas pipelines around the country are 100 years old, it would be unwise to ignore the inherent risks of such an outdated infrastructure. In September 2018, gas leaks caused dozens of explosions and fires in multiple towns in Massachusetts, affecting 39 homes, killing one person, and injuring at least 25.
Gas Explosion Lawsuits and Multi-Million-Dollar Compensation
Gas explosion lawsuits have led to numerous multi-million-dollar settlements around the country.
New Jersey - $19.2 million
In February 2019, Elizabethtown Gas agreed to a $19.2 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by the Henderson family, whose Elizabeth home was destroyed by a gas explosion in 2015. Kimiya and Tyquan Henderson were killed, while several others were seriously injured after a gas leak caused the 1035 Magnolia Ave. property to be blown apart.
Massachusetts - $80 million
In May 2019, a gas company agreed to an $80 million settlement with three communities in Massachusetts over the massive gas explosions that took place last year, killing one and injuring dozens of residents.
Ohio - $7.2 million
In 2014, a judge awarded $7.2 million to the estate of Regina Proudfoot, one of two fatal victims in a gas explosion that took place in 2011. The defendant was Amerigas.
When there is a gas explosion in a home or business, gas companies, contractors, construction companies, cities, counties, estates, landlords, business owners, maintenance companies, and others may be liable, and victims may be entitled to substantial compensation.