Yes, you can sue Atmos Energy for gas explosions and fires that cause injury or death. This Texas-based corporation settled a closely watched gas explosion lawsuit brought by the family of 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers. The innocent girl died and four other people were injured when natural gas leaked from a defective Atmos pipeline and ripped apart the family’s home in north Dallas early one morning in 2018.
Lawyers for the family negotiated with the company and the settlement was announced by Atmos in a 2019 financial disclosure document. The same document noted that the explosion — along with two other house explosions in the same neighborhood near Love Field — were still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Texas Railroad Commission and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Fundamentally, NTSB found a sizable crack in the underground pipeline close to the foundation of the house. Attorneys for the family described it as part of a “mismatched Frankensteinian’’ pipeline system. They alleged gross negligence by Atmos and sought at least $1 million in damages.
Explosion lawyers at Pritzker Hageman, P.A., have paid close attention to the Atmos explosions in Dallas. Leaks in the same neighborhood caused three such explosions and injuries in the span of three days. Furthermore, the NTSB reported that Atmos had been aware of leaks in the neighborhood weeks before the houses exploded and burned. The tragedy led to a number of investigations.
Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman have investigated similar failures across the industry — all avoidable. Call them toll-free at 1-888-377-8900 for a free consultation. Fred and Eric will tell you from experience that the script is similar from case to case: Pipelines leak explosive gas until a citizen discovers it or until the hazardous fuel explodes. Fred and Eric continue to win explosion settlements for families and individuals. In one case, Pritzker-Hageman obtained a $40 million settlement for a husband and wife after the husband was severely burned in a gas explosion that produced a tower of flames. The team also won a $10 million settlement for a client who suffered burns over 50 percent of his body when propane leaked from a tank, filling a house with gas. Once again, Pritzker-Hageman made national headlines when it settled a lawsuit against Centerpoint Energy Corporation. The attorneys’ actions forced the company to take responsibility for the giant explosion that leveled Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis in 2017, killing two school workers.
Gas Explosion Havoc
The Minneapolis and Dallas explosions — coupled with similar disasters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the Merrimack Valley in New England — prompted a congressional hearing in 2019 on the industry’s safety failures. The Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials learned that from 1999 to 2018, the industry experienced 11,992 pipeline incidents which resulted in 317 deaths, 1,302 injuries, and more than $8.1 billion in damages. Incidents increased nearly twofold from 1999 to 2018.
“This shows that we still have much work to do to ensure the safety of our pipeline system, which must be our top priority,’’ Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski said.
The NTSB sent Jennifer Homendy to the hearing. She testified that the industry has been unreliable at detecting its own gas leaks. In fact, most gas pipeline ruptures and leaks are discovered by the public and emergency responders, she said. The NTSB keeps a Most Wanted List of safety improvements of all kinds and 32 items apply to gas pipelines, she said.
Homendy’s testimony included a statement on the federal investigation of the Atmos pipeline explosions in Dallas. She said: “In general, we are looking at pipeline operations, the adequacy of Atmos’s integrity management program, human performance, their safety management system if they had one, and the adequacy of emergency response.”
Hundred of Millions
Atmos is a regulated distributor of natural gas, including pipeline ownership and underground storage in Texas and elsewhere. Beside the Dallas-Fort Worth area and West Texas, the company serves parts of Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi. As one of the largest gas-only utilities in the U.S., Atmos provides natural gas fuel to 3 million customers in more than 1,400 communities.
Business has been good at Atmos for many years. According to the company’s own financial reports, 2019’s profit totaled $511 million. In the two previous years, combined profits equaled $1 billion.
But making hundreds of millions of dollars a year doesn’t mean the company operates without putting people at risk. It continues to be in the process of replacing its aging pipelines. Atmos said in its own recent financial report that loss of human life could be large if an adverse event happened in a population area.
“While Atmos Energy… is accelerating the replacement of aging pipeline infrastructure, operating issues such as leaks, accidents, equipment problems and incidents, including explosions and fire, could result in legal liability, repair and remediation costs… regulatory fines and penalties,’’ the company said in its 2019 year-end report to shareholders.