A September 9, 2010 gas line explosion in a San Bruno, California neighborhood that killed eight people is making its way through the California court system. The blast, which injured at least 50 people and damaged or destroyed over 80 homes in the area, is thought now to have been caused by a faulty pipeline.
Chaos surrounded the scene when, due to its proximity to the San Francisco International Airport, rescue personnel and authorities assumed that a commercial airliner had crashed into the neighborhood. Eventually, emergency responders determined that there was no plane crash and began to suspect a natural gas explosion. To make matters worse, in addition there was a delay in fighting the fire because of a broken water main in the area. Supplementary water was found and firefighters continued to fight the flames.
On-scene personnel were able to locate the source and portions of the suspected broken pipeline were sent to the National Transportation Safety Board for analysis to determine the cause of the failure.
Judge Rules Punitive Damages are Allowed
Recently, a San Mateo County Superior Court judge ruled that victims of the blast can seek punitive damages from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) The jury hearing the case will be allowed to assess punitive damages, setting the stage for PG&E to be used as an example to other companies who may be neglectful of public safety.
During the two day hearing PG&E contended that many years ago the pipe was installed with no records of its source, but that there was no malicious intent. A trial in set to begin in January 2013
The plaintiffs contend that PG&E used scrap pipe on the failed section and sought loopholes when performing line testing in order to avoid further extensive testing and possible expensive reconstruction. The plaintiffs are accusing the company of putting profits over public safety.
Several plaintiffs who filed wrongful death suits against the company have already come to confidential settlement agreements with PG&E. Details were not available.
The plaintiffs will attempt to show at trial that PG&E disregarded the safety of the public. If they are successful, punitive damages could amount to several million dollars.