According to NBC News, thousands of Massachusetts residents are finally being allowed back into their homes today after a string of natural gas explosions and fires took one life, injured dozens, and destroyed homes and buildings all over the Merrimack Valley last Thursday.
Details Still Emerging
While little is publicly known about the explosions at this time, Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of NiSource Company that provides utility service to six states on the eastern side of the country, is reporting on its website that 8,570 gas customers and 17,895 electric company customers have been affected, and the site breaks it down even further by town. CBS News has reported that Columbia gas is linked to at least three other explosions, in Massachusetts, Ohio and West Virginia. The official cause of the chain of explosions has not yet been determined, and a federal investigation may take up to a year, as they interview pipeline workers and gas line monitors.
When Someone is Injured or Killed
The unexpected series of blasts took the life of 18 year-old Leonel Rondon, who it was reported had just gotten his driver’s license earlier that same day, when a blast blew a chimney off a house and onto the car in which he was sitting. It is estimated that an additional twenty-five people were injured by the blasts and flying debris.
Negligence either in maintenance, monitoring and operation of natural gas lines, especially where the infrastructure is aging, or in carelessly doing work around the lines, can result in the type of destruction and injury seen in this recent tragedy. If human error is to blame, individuals and families of those injured or killed can hold the gas company or others responsible liable under Massachusetts law. This will involve consulting engineers or other experts who can assist in determining the cause of the blast.
Replacing the Irreplaceable
Many residents of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover will be faced with unsalvageable homes, and others will need extensive cleanup and renovations to make their homes livable again. Depending on the policy language, homeowner's insurance may provide compensation based on the market value of property lost (or in some cases the cost of replacement less depreciation), or the cost of restoration to the property. But insurance policies generally do not cover items with no real monetary value but immeasurable sentimental value, such as family photos, a beautiful garden or a lifelong collection of a favorite item. For these, Massachusetts may allow the damaged property to be valued by the loss of its enjoyment to the owner resulting from the destruction of the property.
In Silva vs. Melville, Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote "The owner's loss of enjoyment in the use of her property has been recognized as a measure of damages when (1) the loss of fair rental value is either not calculable or appropriate, or (2) when there is evidence of emotional distress that is not reflected in the loss of fair rental value."
SUGARMAN attorneys have experience litigating gas explosion and catastrophic injury cases. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed as a result of a natural gas explosion or other utility-related catastrophe, call us at 617-542-1000, email email@example.com or fill out a Contact Form.