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Injured After Striking a Buried Gas Line

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a caller who said that her husband was injured while excavating when his equipment hit a domestic gas line feeding into a home. She wanted to know their legal rights.

While it isn’t every day that someone strikes a gas line while digging, severe injury or death may result when a gas line is ruptured.

Large gas lines are usually permanently marked and exist in a well-defined right-of-way. The caller was focused on a gas line that was leading into a house.

The gas line was not correctly marked based on her information, and her husband didn’t expect to be hitting a gas line where he was digging.

The gas utility company buried the line. The gas utility company marked where the gas line was supposed to be buried.

But the marking flags were 15 feet away from where the actual line was buried.

So either the individual who placed the flags made a mistake, or the utility company didn’t properly document the gas line’s location in its records.

In either case, the gas company is primarily liable. Perhaps the person marking the line was an independent contractor, which would throw a wrinkle into the analysis. Still, typically if the gas company hired that contractor, it would more than likely share responsibility for any contractor mistake.

A utility company is under a duty to use reasonable care in transporting natural gas. The company also is obligated to reasonably inspect and maintain its gas line.

Most companies require an excavator to contact a clearinghouse agency before digging. That agency then will come out and mark underground utility locations.

Based on the facts provided, an investigation would likely reveal where the mistake was made.

Most of the time, the equipment used to determine where an underground gas line is located is very accurate. This equipment can detect metal at a fair distance under the ground. The flagger should be able to accurately mark the gas line’s location.

Significant evidence will be the locating flags that remain and indicate that the gas line was in a different location. Also important will be that the other utility lines, such as phone lines and cable lines, and electrical lines, were marked.

Typically the property owner calling for a marking of utility lines must wait several days for the individual utility companies to flag their utility lines. It would be helpful to a case that the person digging waited the appropriate amount of time.

Years ago, we represented a backhoe operator injured when his equipment severed a natural gas line leading into a subdivision.

This gas line was larger than the typical small-diameter lines that feed an individual house.

The excavator suffered second and 3rd° burns to a large percentage of his body. He healed and survived.

When a large diameter natural gas line is severed and catches fire, it takes more than a local volunteer fire department to control the situation.

The line has to be shut off. Then it has to be carefully mended. Sometimes, a temporary repair can be made by placing a big rubber boot over the gas line hole.

Once the pressure is removed from all the gas lines feeding numerous homes, those gas lines need to be carefully re-pressurized. Then furnaces and pilot lights have to be carefully brought back online once the pressure is returned to the smaller diameter individual lines.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.