Minnesota Appeals Court Revives Lawsuit Over Home Gas Explosion

The Minnesota Court of Appeals held the seller of a home can face trial over his failure to cap a gas line that subsequently led to an explosion injuring the property’s residents.

Each year there is an average of 17 reported deaths in the United States due to “incidents involving natural gas pipelines,” according to a 2014 article published in Environmental Science & Technology. Even when not fatal, gas leak explosions can severely burn and injure members of a household, including children. For example, in September 2012, an undetected gas leak in a Tracy, Minnesota, home led to an explosion that caused serious burn injuries to the occupants, Sonja Timmons and her three young children.

Court: Seller’s Promise to Cap Gas Line May Create Liability

Timmons later filed a number of lawsuits against various parties whose negligence allegedly contributed to the gas leak and explosion. One of the defendants, Jerrold Parker, was the previous owner of the home. According to Timmons’ lawsuit; Parker initially rented the house to herself and her partner; Troy Haugen, before eventually selling it to Haugen outright. Prior to Timmons’ occupancy; Parker had removed the house’s gas stove; stating that he would “take care of” capping the gas line and making sure “everything was safe.”

The final sales contract was between Parker and Haugen, to which neither Timmons nor her children were parties. The contract stated the home was sold “as-is” without any warranties. Nine months after the sale, however; Haugen turned on the house’s furnace, but in doing so unintentionally opened the valve to the gas line in the kitchen. Unfortunatly, the line had not been capped; as Parker originally promised. The next day, Haugen lit a cigarette in the kitchen, triggering the explosion.

Before a trial court, Parker argued he could not be held liable for the explosion under Minnesota law. The judge agree and granted Parker’s motion for summary judgment. But in an unpublished September 24, 2018, opinion, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment and held Timmons’ case could proceed to a jury trial. The appeals court said; a “genuine issue of material fact exists regarding whether Parker owed a duty to Timmons and her children;” to cap the gas line as he’d promised. The Court noted a jury could find that Parker’s neglect “created a foreseeable risk of injury.”

While Minnesota law provides that a person who sells real property is generally “not liable for injury to a purchaser or a third person” caused by the condition of the property at the time of sale; there is an exception to this “vendor rule” for “conceals or fails to disclose” any “unreasonably dangerous condition.” In this case, the Court of Appeals said that while Parker did disclose the existence of the uncapped gas line; his subsequent unfulfilled promise to cap the line may have “negated his disclosure.”

Always Get a Home Inspection Before Moving In

Minnesota and Wisconsin personal injury lawyer Erik M. Bergmanis noted the Court of Appeals’ decision was limited in scope. “In this case, the seller made a specific promise to repair a known dangerous condition, and his failure to follow through may lead a jury to hold him liable for the catastrophic injuries suffered by Sonja Timmons and her children. But as a general rule, if you’re buying a home, you need to do a home inspection and make sure any unresolved safety issues are taken care of before you move in. Do not assume you will simply be able to sue the seller if something goes wrong with the property later.”

Contact us, toll free, today to review your case at 1-888-596-6049.

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