A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against CenterPoint Energy on behalf of the family of a woman who died in the gas explosion at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Also named in the suit is Master Mechanical, a mechanical contracting company. The lawsuit was filed in Minnesota District Court, Hennepin County, on October 25, 2017 (Case Number 27-CV-17-16285).
“We are alleging that the explosion was caused by failure to close off shut-off valves before disconnecting a gas line from a meter.”Attorney Fred Pritzker
The Gas Explosion at Minnehaha Academy
On the morning of August 2, 2017, two workers from Master Mechanical entered a building on the Minnehaha Academy campus to remove a gas meter and relocate it to the outside of the building, as requested by CenterPoint Energy. To accomplish this, they had to disconnect the gas service line from the inside meter. But they made a deadly mistake, according to documents filed in the lawsuit. They did not first close shut-off valves that would prevent huge quantities of gas from spewing into the building when the line was disconnected. In addition, CenterPoint Engery had not installed special valves to automatically shut down the flow of gas and prevent an explosion.
With the shut-off valves open, the Master Mechanical workers disconnected the gas line from the meter. Gas, operating under pressure, flowed out of the supply pipe and into the confined area. The situation was critical. Instead of warning the other people inside of the building of the danger, the lawsuit alleges that they ran to save themselves.
At about 10:22 a.m. the gas ignited and the building exploded. Two people died and several were severely injured. Most of the building had been turned to rubble in the natural gas explosion.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of family of Ruth Berg, an employee at Minnehaha Academy. She was only 47. Her daughter and mother are co-trustees on behalf of the family.
Basis for Lawsuit against CenterPoint Energy and Master Mechanical
The lawsuit states that CenterPoint Energy should have ensured that competent and qualified individuals were involved in the work being done at Minnehaha Academy on the morning of August 2, 2017. In addition, the company should have ensured that the natural gas line was properly and safely shut off prior to any work being done.
The Complaint filed in the case lists the many failures alleged against both CenterPoint Energy and Master Mechanical, including the following:
- Failure to train and supervise the two men from Master Mechanical regarding safe procedures for meter relocation;
- Failure to properly equip them with sufficient tools and equipment to safely carry out the meter relocation project;
- Failure to design, implement and follow an effective safety plan;
- Failure to communicate with and warn people working in the building and adjacent areas about the hazardous and abnormally dangerous operation being conducted;
- Failure to evacuate people working in the building and adjacent areas prior to disconnecting the service line;
- Failure to safely and effectively shut-off the supply of gas at the shut-off valve just upstream from the meter prior to disconnecting the service line from the meter;
- Failure to properly inspect the shut-off valve just upstream from the meter to make sure it was fully closed;
- Failure to properly bleed off or purge gas downstream from the shut-off valve or valves, which, had they done so, would have alerted them to the fact that the line was still fully pressurized;
- Failure to utilize or implement an Excess Flow Valve (EFV) or curb valve to automatically shut off the gas when the gas flow exceeds design limits;
- Failure to immediately and urgently warn and evacuate building occupants, including decedent Ruth Berg, after they knew of the escaping gas.
Pritzker Hageman Law Firm
Pritzker Hageman, P.A. is a Minnesota law firm with a national practice in the area of gas explosions. Our gas explosion lawyers have won multimillion-dollar recoveries for clients. Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman are our lead lawyers for this wrongful death case.