Our firm settled a wrongful death case last month in an Alabama State Court. The case involved a propane gas fire. We represented the family of William Pipkin, Jr., who died in the fire that occurred on February 13, 2012. The fire started at the propane gas heater in the Pipkin home and it spread rapidly throughout the structure. Mr. Pipkin’s burned body was found in his bedroom closet. The lawsuit was filed by the Pipkin family against Inergy Propane, which had supplied gas to the home for approximately 10 years, and Ferrellgas, which had taken over the account in January, 2012. No employee of Inergy had ever performed a safety inspection of the appliances and fuel lines located inside the home to make sure they were in good, safe working condition. Such an inspection was required by the company’s safety policies for all new customers.
Mr. Pipkin became a new customer of Ferrellgas just a few months prior to the fire. An in-house inspection for all new customers should have been performed as part of the Ferrellgas system check. Unfortunately, no such inspection was ever done. Propane gas is highly flammable and, as a result, most dangerous. A small leak can result in tragic consequences. A few months prior to the fire, Mr. Pipkin had reported a gas leak at the heater location in his home.
We settled the case with both Defendants during the week prior to the scheduled trial date. The amount of the settlement with each defendant is confidential. We expected to prove at trial that each of the Defendants was at fault and failed to properly maintain and service the gas delivery system at the Pipkin home. Had a basic safety inspection been conducted by a trained employee of either defendant, any defects or deficiencies would have been identified and corrected in the gas system. It would have resulted in the gas wall heater being taken out of service at that time. The gas tank was located too close to the house, which violated code requirements. In addition, a regulator on the tank was outside the manufacturers’ recommended service life. A proper inspection by either defendant would have found these problems, which would have required that the interior of the house be inspected.
This was a tragic case arising from an event that could have easily been avoided. Had even one of the two companies carried out the required inspections of the propane gas system, there would not have been the need for a lawsuit since Mr. Pipkin would still be with his family and friends.
LaBarron Boone from our firm was the lead lawyer in this case. He did a tremendous job working up the case and getting it ready for trial. Another of our lawyers, Greg Allen, along with Shane Seaborn and Myron Penn, from the Union Springs firm of Penn & Seaborn, were also involved in the case. Dana Taunton from our firm handled all of the briefing and the summary judgment issues. Dana argued the motions successfully prior to the settlement.
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