Apartment explosions require fact-specific legal investigations of landlords to determine cause and liability, according to national explosion and burn lawyer Tariq Miller, an attorney for survivors of burn injuries.
“Certainly there could be a claim against the landlord,’’ Miller said. “We see cases where landlords didn’t take steps to prevent tragedy.’’
Deadly apartment fires and explosions have been prominent this year in the United States.
In the greater Atlanta area in September, an apartment complex exploded like a bomb in Dunwoody while Atlanta Gas Light officials were on their way to investigate reports of a strange scent. In the days leading up to the explosion, tenants had complained to management of gas odor. Four people were injured in the afternoon blast, two severely.
Tenants in 400 individual apartments were endangered and horrified. They lost their housing and gas service during the investigation and cleanup.
What to ask the landlord in an explosion investigation
When an apartment building explodes, tenants should depend on their own legal team to sort out what went wrong. Miller, who practices law at the nationally recognized firm of Pritzker Hageman, said rental complexes blow up for different reasons. But in every instance, tenants deserve legal representation. Strong, fact-specific investigations must be undertaken to examine the aspect of landlord liability, he said.
Granted, landlords aren’t always to blame. Past apartment explosions have been linked to natural gas utilities, propane suppliers, appliance manufacturers, appliance installers, repairmen, heating companies and construction crews.
Still, in any case, tenants deserve to know what steps the landlord took to maintain safe gas service to the apartment building. Moreover, did the landlord skip any steps that would have assured safety? What follows is a partial checklist of legal inquiry covering landlord responsibilities in the event of a gas leak apartment explosion:
- Did the apartment building have a history of gas leaks?
- Before the explosion, was a gas leak reported to the landlord?
- Did the apartment landlord check for gas leaks?
- Did the landlord properly install gas appliances?
- Did the landlord heed all appliance safety recall notices?
- Did the landlord hire certified technicians to ensure safe pipeline connections?
- Did the landlord ignore gas leak warnings?
- Did the apartment landlord fail to warn tenants of a known gas leak?
- Did the landlord deny lawyers access to the rubble for investigation?
“If they failed to take certain steps, tenants and their families deserve to know,’’ Miller said.
Apartment fire and explosion wrongful death lawsuits
Hard-nosed questioning in the aftermath of an apartment explosion doesn’t always reveal the cause. Said Miller: “Sometimes it’s a freak accident that can’t be explained.”
But apartment fire and explosion lawsuits often rise from the wreckage. Miller once worked on an explosion case in rural Kentucky that killed three people. His clients were connected to the natural gas supply line in the same manner as other residents of the area. They smelled a gas leak and reported it. The deadly explosion came next.
In the Kentucky case, Miller said forensic experts who worked on behalf of his clients cut holes in the ground to investigate what went wrong. There was so much leaked gas from the supply line that anyone could light the soil on fire. “We proved that the ground was still filled with gas,’’ he said.
Miller’s cohorts at Pritzker Hageman won a $10 million settlement for a man with third-degree burns in a house explosion caused by a propane tank leak. The law firm also obtained a $45 million settlement for a man who survived extensive burns in a natural gas pipeline explosion. The case stands as the firm’s largest explosion recovery for a family, but Pritzker Hageman attorneys also have recovered millions of dollars for other families devastated by natural gas tragedies.
In January 2021, Pritzker Hageman took aim at a very large landlord, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. The complaint was filed in connection with a devastating fire that started on the 14th floor of a high-rise apartment complex on the day before Thanksgiving. The fire caused the deaths of five people and injured at least four others. Pritzker Hageman filed a lawsuit on behalf of family members for two of the people who died.
“We’re here to seek full compensation for every single family that suffers an explosion death or burn injury,’’ said Fred Pritzker, the firm’s founding partner.