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Criminal Investigation Opened in Columbia Gas Home Explosion Tragedy

In early September, a gas pressure issue in Columbia Gas lines caused 131 Massachusetts homes to explode or catch fire. The tragedy resulted in one death and 23 injuries. Homes and businesses were destroyed, thousands had to be evacuated, and—more than a month later—many victims remain homeless, or without heat. Columbia Gas and its parent company Nisource Inc. have understandably faced heavy criticism from the victims and the general public. But the situation stands to become even more complicated.

A federal grand jury served Nisource with subpoenas on September 24, just two weeks after the explosions. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also conducting an investigation. A Boston injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to the negligence of another.

Further information about the nature of the investigation is as yet unavailable, and a spokesman for the company declined to answer questions Thursday.

“We are cooperating with all investigations and inquiries into the Lawrence event, including the criminal matter. However, we can’t speak specifically to any of those inquiries,” said NiSource spokesman Ken Stammen.

But Why is it Criminal?

According to the NTSB, Columbia Gas workers, who were tasked with replacing old pipes in Lawrence, were given bad work orders by the company. The orders failed to acknowledge the existence of a pressure-sensing feedback line, which resulted in high-pressure gas being pumped into the system, and the subsequent explosions.

“We’re sharing information we think is of interest that investors need to know about,” said Ken Stammen, a Nisource spokesperson. “Beyond that, there are limitations around what we can say about investigations.”

Leonel Rondon, an 18-year-old Lawrence man was killed in the September 13 explosions and many more were injured.

“I think it’s appropriate and right to do,” said Dan Rivera, Lawrence Mayor, when asked about the criminal investigation. “A young man lost his life and the city was turned upside down.”

Nisource Linked to Three Previous Explosions

Considering Nisource’s history, such a deadly error is even more disturbing. The company is linked to three prior gas explosions.

  • In November 2012, a Columbia Gas of Massachusetts explosion destroyed the Scores strip club in Springfield, MA and injured 21. About a dozen nearby buildings were also damaged.
  • In December 2012, a gas pipeline operated by Columbia Gas Transmission exploded in Sissonville, West Virginia, destroying three homes and propelling a 20-foot section of pipe through the air.
  • In March 2015, an “improperly abandoned” Columbia Gas of Ohio service line exploded, causing $9 million in structural damage.

Many of Nation’s Oldest and Leakiest Pipes are in Boston

A recently-published USA TODAY report reveals that tens of thousands of miles of old pipelines need upgraded across the country. Many of these are in Boston and the surrounding suburbs, which have some of the nation’s oldest and leakiest pipes. This “silent danger” has caused a general sense of alarm among MA residents, but Nisource President Joseph Hamrock says that they are working hard to resolve the problem.

“This tragic event has been a humbling experience for all of us at Nisource and Columbia Gas,” said Hamrock. “We realized that much work lies ahead of us to finish our service restoration in Greater Lawrence, and regain the trust of our customers and the communities we serve.”

According to Nisource, approximately 8,500 gas meters had to be shut down for service following the explosions. About 700 of those belonged to area businesses. A MA injury attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

Columbia Gas initially reported that the thousands of customers impacted would have gas by November 19, but they updated that date to December 16, last week.

Insurance Payments Will Cover Most of Nisource’s Expenses

Although the September tragedy has already cost Nisource about $462 million, most of those expenses will be “substantially recovered” through the utility company’s insurance policy, which has a limit of about $800 million. The $462 million accounts for approximately $415 million in personal injury and property damage expenses, and the remainder will be payments to utility companies that helped with the restoration project. In addition to the criminal investigation, Nisource will likely face civil suits from victims of the explosion.

Altman & Altman, LLP—Top Personal Injury Law Firm in MA

If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of accident and injury victims for more than 50 years, and we have an impressive track record of obtaining compensation for our clients. You may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other associated costs. Don’t go through this difficult time alone, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.

 

 

 

 

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