Hurt When Gas Line is Cut While Digging
While it isn’t every day that someone severs a gas line, serious injury or death may result when a gas line is ruptured while digging.
Large gas lines are usually permanently marked and exist in a well-defined right-of-way. Professional excavating companies rarely hit these lines.
But, smaller gas lines that lead into homes are more likely to be severed if a homeowner is digging in a yard and present a hazard if the lines are not properly marked in advance of excavation.
Typically a gas utility company buries the line, and the gas utility company comes out and marks where the gas line is buried.
What if the marking flags are not placed where the actual line is buried? In such a case, either the individual who placed the marking flags in the wrong location made a mistake, or the utility company didn’t properly document placement of the gas line.
In either case the gas company would be primarily liable. Where the person marking the line is an independent contractor, it will throw a wrinkle into the analysis, but typically if the gas company hired that contractor it would share responsibility for any mistake that the contractor made.
A utility company is under a duty to use reasonable care in the transporting of natural gas, and is obliged to reasonably inspect and maintain its gas lines.
Most companies will require that the excavator contact a clearinghouse to mark where all underground utilities are located. So, a homeowner or excavator, who does not call for marking, can be held responsible for failing to do so.
Most of the time the equipment used to determine where an underground gas line is located is very accurate. This equipment is able to detect metal at a fair distance below ground and a flagger should be able to properly mark the location of a gas line.
Preserving evidence of placement of the locating flags will be important. Also important will be proof that the gas line was in an unmarked location.
It will help to have proof that other utility lines, such as phone lines, cable lines and electrical lines, were marked. Additionally, typically the property owner calling for a marking of utility lines must wait a certain number of days after calling to make sure all the individual utility companies come out and flag their utility lines, so if the excavator did not wait, it may lead to an assignment of fault against the person digging.
Years ago we dealt with a situation where an excavator was burned when his equipment severed a natural gas line leading into a subdivision. The excavator suffered second and third degree burns, but survived.
Once a larger diameter natural gas line is severed and catches fire, it takes a more than simply a local volunteer fire department to control the fire. The line has to be shut off and repaired. Once gas pressure is removed from all the gas lines feeding homes, those gas lines need to be re-pressurized and pilot lights have to be brought back online.