Explosion lawyers Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman condemned the failures of a horizontal drilling company and two other firms involved in a botched, deadly installation of underground conduit that blew up in Canton, Illinois.

Pipeline explosion lawsuit
Explosion lawyers Fred Pritzker, left, and Eric Hageman condemn safety failures in deadly pipeline explosion

The attorneys, who represent burn victims of pipeline explosions and other blasts, criticized the companies for safety lapses uncovered this month by federal officials who investigated a fireball that leveled Canton’s century-old Opera House and annex in November 2016. Arturo Silva Jr. of Mapleton, Ill., died and 11 others were injured. Silva worked for Ameren Illinois, the owner and operator of the plastic fuel line that was gashed by a drill crew from Sure Shot Communications LLC. Sure Shot was working as a contractor for Mid Century Communications, a telephone and fiber optics cooperative.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spelled out its findings Dec. 3, 2018, in a detailed explosion report compiled over two years. Federal investigators said in the document that crews violated Illinois law by not excavating a concrete sidewalk above the gas line before boring into the ground to install conduit for fiber optic cable. The law mandates enough excavation to visually inspect the drilling while in progress.

“Negligence caused this tragedy,’’ Mr. Pritzker said. “This is what happens when professionals blatantly disregard safety laws.’’

Explosion lawsuit

Any pipeline explosion lawsuit on hold in connection with the Canton gas leak can move forward now that the NTSB has announced its findings. The drill rod ripped a half-inch hole in Ameren’s gas line, the report said. Sure Shot’s crew leader told the NTSB “that the owner of Sure Shot instructed him not to excavate under the concrete slab to avoid replacing the relatively new concrete sidewalk,’’ the NTSB report said.

Mr. Hageman, who leads the explosion litigation team at Pritzker Hageman Law Firm, said the NTSB uncovered additional safety lapses in connection with the natural gas explosion.

“This tragedy was entirely avoidable,’’ Hageman said. “Worse yet, these types of failures happen over and over. It’s why you need a good explosion lawyer.’’

Section 7 of Illinois Underground Utility Facilities Damage Prevention Act requires a 911 call any time there’s damage to an underground utility that leaks any flammable, toxic, or corrosive gas or liquid. “The person responsible for the excavation or demolition shall call 911 and notify authorities of the damage,’’ the law states.

But neither Sure Shot, nor Ameren, nor Mid Century called 911 to report the leak prior to the explosion, the NTSB reported. The owner of Sure Shot told investigators that the company did not contact 911 because it called JULIE — Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators, a not-for-profit organization. The crew leader told the NTSB that he believed JULIE would make the 911 notification.

Contributing Factors

NTSB reported that the leak was obvious. “After striking the gas line, the crew leader described hearing, smelling, and seeing the leaking gas moving rocks and soil,’’ the report said. The escaped gas exploded a few hours later after the street was blocked off and some attempts were made to evacuate nearby buildings, the report said. But not everyone was evacuated.

“Contributing to the severity of the accident was the failure of Sure Shot and Ameren to evacuate the area,’’ the NTSB wrote in its summary.

The smell of gas was in the air, but investigators reported that Ameren never took gas readings inside area buildings. The company received both indoor and outdoor odor complaints and representatives of the company were at the site 90 minutes before the explosion, the report said.

The NTSB also reported that Sure Shot did not have either a written project plan or an emergency response plans for the work. Nor did Sure Shot and Mid Century have a written contract for work, according to the report. NTSB also documented that Sure Shot did not have qualification and training records for the employees performing directional drilling. The day of the accident was the first field work day for the crew leader, the agency discovered.

The NTSB report on the Canton pipeline explosion highlights the importance of explosion investigations.

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Pritzker Hageman Law Firm conducts independent explosion probes of its own on behalf of explosion and burn victims. The law firm conducts the investigations in order to demonstrate faults and failures and to hold companies and their insurance carriers to the highest limits of accountability. Pritzker Hageman has recovered tens of millions of dollars for explosion and burn victims across the country, including victims of pipeline explosions. To contact them for a free consultation about an explosion lawsuit, call 1(888) 377-8900 (toll-free). There is no obligation.