After more than four years, a wrongful-death lawsuit has been settled between Ameren Missouri and the daughters of a couple who died after a gas explosion at their East Campus home. Terms of the settlement are confidential. The case had been set to go to trial before the settlement was reached. The explosion that led to the deaths of Carl and Merna Sneed occurred on the morning of March 14, 2008, at the couple’s home. Fire investigators confirmed an excessive amount of natural gas leaking into the basement of the house likely caused the explosion that led to the deaths.
Carl Sneed, who was 87, died at the scene of the explosion. Emergency responders found Merna Sneed, who was 85, lying 20 feet from the house, with 30 percent of her body burned. She died as a result of her injuries about three weeks later. According to an investigative report from the Columbia Fire Department, the explosion was powerful enough to thrust the walls of the house outward several feet. The front door of the house was blown into the yard across the street, and the first floor collapsed into the basement.
The amount of gas flowing into the Sneed house on the morning of March 14, 2008, had reached 1,800 cubic feet before the explosion. In the weeks leading up to the explosion, no more than 700 cubic feet of gas had gone into the house in one day. In the wrongful-death lawsuit against Ameren, filed in June 2008, the Sneeds’ daughters alleged Ameren had “superior knowledge” of the gas distribution system that carried natural gas into the Sneed home and that it was the company’s responsibility to act in a timely manner to shut off the gas after it had been pumping into the Sneed home.
Ameren argued it did not willfully cause the accident and that it was following government regulations. The company also argued that Carl and Merna Sneed did not react to the smell of leaking natural gas, which produces a distinct “rotten eggs” odor when even a small amount is released. The company also claimed the couple failed to maintain their gas appliances, including a stove, a water heater and a furnace.
Neil Johnson, a lawyer from Hartford, Conn., represented the daughters in the lawsuit. He did a very good job for them.
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