Propane Explosion Litigation: PA Suffers from Series Explosions

December 27, 2023

A series of devastating propane-related explosions have shaken Pennsylvania throughout 2023, especially in recent months. Despite propane companies claims that leaks and resulting explosions are rare, an overwhelming number of reported cases have occurred within the state over the last year - raising questions regarding safety, regulations, and maintenance. 

The latest explosion occurred in the afternoon on December 22nd at the AmericaGas Partners building in Beaver County, PA. Two propane tanks inside the AmeriGas storage garage erupted, causing a massive fire that destroyed the building. Fortunately, no one was on site at the time of this explosion. 

On the same night, December 22nd, Irishtown Fire Company was called to the scene of a propane gas explosion in Adams County, PA. Crews were called to the 100 block of Fish and Game Road in Oxford Township late Friday night for a report of a garage on fire. Firefighters arrived and found a garage fully involved in fire, spreading to multiple vehicles and causing personal injuries.

Less than a week before, on the morning of December 18th, a Lancaster County landmark, the Bird-in-Hand Family Inn exploded due to a propane gas leak. 61-year-old Michelle Miller lost her life in this tragic explosion. She was a long-time member of the community and served as the night auditor for the inn for 34 years. In addition to this wrongful death, the explosion and resulting fire caused close to $2 million in damages to the inn and adjoining restaurant. Thankfully, at the time of the incident the inn was vacant of guests due to scheduled annual pre-holiday maintenance. 

In September, a 68-year-old man died in a home explosion that reportedly lifted the home from its foundation. Though the investigation is still ongoing, there was strong suspicion that the explosion was caused by a propane leak in the house. 

On July 5th, the Rapho Township Maintenance building exploded due to a propane heater leak, destroying it and damaging nearly a dozen surrounding homes. The maintenance building belonged to the county and housed snow plows, dump trucks and other road maintenance equipment that the community needed, especially for the upcoming snow-season.

Seven people lost their lives and 11 others were injured on March 24th, at a candy factory in West Reading, PA when a natural gas pipeline exploded. In 2021, the utility company UGI Corp “exposed and retired” a brittle service line from 1982 but failed to properly disengage the retired line. Several leaks, both in the old and the new lines, were found by specialists after the resulting explosion.

Propane leaks result in an estimated 3000 fires and/or explosions in the United States every year - most commonly during the winter months when gas usage is up. Gas leaks can be the result of a variety of catastrophic failures including: 

  • Improper maintenance

  • Malfunctioning appliances

  • Broken gas lines

  • Worn-out connectors

  • Overfilled tanks

  • Corrosion, wear & tear of propane cylinders

  • Loss of odor additive 

Propane is a colorless, odorless gas that when mixed with oxygen can cause explosions and massive, rapidly burning fires. Odor additives are mixed with propane to alert of a problem. In rare cases, the additive degrades making it undetectable by smell or without proper equipment.

Homeowners, landlords and business owners are responsible for regular maintenance on all appliances, heaters, or other equipment that utilize propane as a source of energy. Rented tanks should be maintained by the gas company that services them to ensure that the tank is suitable for continued use. Often leaks are a result of improper maintenance, oversight, or manufacturer errors with a potential for a devastating outcome. 

If you or one of your clients has suffered an injury as a result of a gas leak explosion, contact McEldrew Purtell's Rapid Response Team (#RRT).

Our team specializes in complex Catastrophic Injury cases involving explosions and has the expertise and resources needed to secure the best outcome for you or your clients. 

Contact the Team to discuss your case, co-counsel or referrals.