Home gas explosion prompts civil lawsuit

Case claims propane firms liable for blast

A La Plata County family that survived a home explosion last year north of Lemon Reservoir has filed a civil lawsuit against several gas companies that installed or serviced a propane system at the house.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money – something in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other costs.

The lawsuit was filed this month by Tim, Karen and Cameron Kelley, who were inside the home when it exploded Feb. 21, 2012.

The Kelleys said the propane leak was caused by a snow shield that put pressure on a gas regulator on the outside of the house. The snow shield was provided by AmeriGas and installed by Creative Plumbing & Heating. Both companies are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Creative Plumbing & Heating was negligent in its location and installation of the snow shield, and AmeriGas had a duty to ensure the snow shield was installed properly, the lawsuit says.

The explosion leveled the two-story house.

Tim and Karen Kelley were buried under 5 feet to 6 feet of debris, and their daughter, who was 9, fell from the second floor to the first floor.

Tim Kelley suffered burns to his face and hands, a spinal fracture, fractures to his right knee, multiple injuries to his left knee, a closed-head and brain injury, and multiple other injuries. His medical expenses are expected to exceed $531,000.

Karen Kelley suffered burns to her legs and left hand that required skin grafts, a laceration to her left ear that had to be surgically closed, closed-head and brain injuries, among other injuries. Her expenses are estimated at $357,000.

Cameron Kelley suffered a fractured left leg, laceration and burns to her face, among other injuries costing about $30,000.

AmeriGas, which was the original provider of propane when the system was installed, hired Creative Plumbing to install the snow shield, said Steve Samuel, vice president and general counsel of AmeriGas. Legal teams will spend the next months, and possibly years, trying to determine what happened, why it happen and whether the Kelleys took proper precautions.

Samuel said AmeriGas is aware of the lawsuit, but not enough is known to comment about specifics.

“It’s too early in the process to respond, because we don’t know all the facts,” he said. “We simply don’t know enough yet to understand the mechanics of why this happened.”

Creative Plumbing & Heating did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit also names Mesa Propane Inc., which was the provider of propane at the time of the explosion. The company was negligent in its inspection and warnings with respect to the configuration and location of the piping and snow shield, the lawsuit alleges.

The Kelleys called Mesa Propane to report a gas leak the night of the explosion. A serviceman arrived to find the house leveled.

He rescued the girl and called for emergency workers to respond. Rescue workers spent about two hours freeing Tim and Karen from the debris.

The family dog, Rocko, was rescued about 16 hours after the blast, and the family cat, Tippi, was found alive 17 days after the explosion.

The American Red Cross gave Mesa Propane serviceman Bobby Fisher the Adult Lifesaver Award and Cameron Kelley the Youth Lifesaver Award for their actions.

shane@durangoherald.com