Yes. A wrongful death lawsuit against Centerpoint Energy filed by Pritzker Hageman Attorneys achieved a settlement for the family of Ruth Berg, a beloved receptionist who died in a natural gas explosion at Minnehaha Academy school in Minneapolis. Centerpoint is a natural gas and energy company with extreme market shares in parts of Minnesota, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
The company owns $34 billion in assets, makes hundreds of millions of dollars in operating revenue per year and has been seeking a rate increase in Minnesota, where two people died and nine others were injured in the wholly preventable Minnehaha school explosion in 2017. The injuries included traumatic brain injury, leg amputation, horrific burns and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Pritzker Hageman investigated and found that a Centerpoint gas line containing highly pressurized and explosive gas was being disassembled by an inexperienced, untrained and unqualified young worker. The gas leaked at full flow inside a downstairs area during a meter relocation project. The workers fled without saving the lives of others.
Those same findings were later echoed in a report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The agency ruled that the at-fault pipefitters for Centerpoint lacked documentation that would have clearly established the scope of the work they were doing.
In a related investigation, the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety leveled approximately $200,000 in fines against CenterPoint and the company said it was contesting the regulatory action.
$8 Million Louisiana Lawsuit
Centerpoint has been sued for other natural gas tragedies and the problem of gas line leaks and explosions is ongoing. In Minnesota, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere, the company alone has ownership, care and control of gas service lines, gas meters, regulators and other apparatus. The gas lines and equipment can only be detached, removed, repaired, or replaced by Centerpoint or its authorized agent.
A jury last year in Louisiana determined that Centerpoint Energy was 80 percent at fault for a gas leak and explosion that killed Richard Williams outside his home in Shreveport. The blast in Mr. Williams’s backyard occurred out of the blue on a summer afternoon in 2016. He was a 65-year-old psychiatrist who suffered from blast and burn injuries for 81 days before losing his life. A district judge who heard the Centerpoint lawsuit awarded Williams’ wife and daughter damages of $8.369 million.
Investigators linked the fatal explosion to a leaky, old, cast iron pipe. Two years later, the case was cited in an in-depth newspaper investigation by USA Today that said Williams was one of at least 264 people killed in natural gas leaks, fires and explosions since 1990. The federal data mined under the First Amendment revealed that more than 1,600 people have been injured.
Houston-based Centerpoint is the second largest natural gas supplier in the United States with 4.5 million customers and 119,000 miles of pipe. In Minnesota alone the company serves 260 communities and the Centerpoint network in Minnesota reaches from Brainerd in the north to Blue Earth in the south. Centerpoint said publicly last year that it supplies natural gas to 860,000 customers in Minnesota, or two of every three Minnesota households.
Centerpoint’s biggest market is Texas, where it pipes natural gas to 1.7 million customers. That’s about half of its total base of natural gas customers. Minnesota is second, Arkansas is third and Louisiana is fourth.
In Centerpoint’s 2018 annual report to shareholders, the company acknowledged the danger that its natural gas business presents to the general public. State and federal regulators continue to pressure the company to upgrade the integrity of its pipeline system, which includes aging cast iron and bare steel vessels, the company said in a discussion of risk factors. “If certain pipeline replacements are not completed timely or successfully, government agencies and private parties might allege the uncompleted replacements caused events such as fires, explosions or leaks,’’ Centerpoint said in its annual report. “Although we maintain insurance for certain of our facilities, our insurance coverage may not be sufficient in the event that a catastrophic loss is alleged to have been caused by a failure.’’
Centerpoint pipeline explosion
As recently as June 2019, five workers were injured when a natural gas line exploded in a residential neighborhood southeast of Houston. The pipeline workers were employees of a company or so-called authorized agent under contract with Centerpoint Energy.
The Santa Fe Police Department reported that two men were airlifted with severe burns. Three more were taken by ambulance. The fire caused by the natural gas leak shot flames into the sky for nearly six hours.
Pritzker Hageman explosion and burn lawyers represent people nationwide who have been injured in explosions. Recently, they recovered a $45-million settlement for a client who was seriously injured in a pipeline explosion. If you or a member of your family has been injured, contact us online or call us for a free consultation at all 1 (888) 377-8900 (toll-free).