Norfolk Propane Explosion Victim's Family Files Lawsuit Against Gas Company and Plumber


Marc L. Breakstone, Esquire:  800-379-1244

Claims Gas Company Under-filled Tank and Plumber Failed to Tighten Propane Connection

BOSTON-(January 4, 2011)- The family of William (“Billy”) Nichols, the Blackstone electrician, who died after the July 30, 2010 propane gas explosion in Norfolk, Massachusetts, has filed suit today in Suffolk Superior Court against EnergyUSA and Smolinsky Plumbing and Heating.

The complaint alleges that EnergyUSA negligently under-filled a new propane tank at the Norfolk condominium construction project, causing the chemical odorant which had been added to propane to fade. This made the leaking propane gas odorless and undetectable.

The complaint also claims that Smolinsky Plumbing and Heating carelessly failed to tighten a connection to the furnace which led to the leak of the undectable propane gas.  The leaking propane gas caused the explosion.

William Nichols, age 46, was buried under burning debris for over 90 minutes before he was rescued by local firefighters.  Mr. Nichols was transported by a MedFlight team to Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he died that evening from massive burn and explosion injuries.

Boston attorney Marc L. Breakstone, who represents the family in the wrongful death law suit, called the accident “a terrible tragedy that could easily have been avoided.” He added, “This explosion happened because EnergyUSA violated clear warnings and safety standards. It was predictable that the odorant would fade, causing a severe explosion hazard.”

Breakstone also said, “EnergyUSA violated a warning printed prominently on the inside cover of the propane tank which they owned, installed and regrettably, only partially filled.”

Last Thursday, the State Fire Marshal’s office released its report that pointed to “odorant fade” as the likely cause of the leaking gas being undetectable.  The report stated that this phenomenon can occur when the chemical that is added to give propane its distinctive “rotten eggs” smell fades over time.  The report noted that this problem is particularly troublesome in new tanks, such as the one at the Norfolk condominium site.

According to records, despite the tank warning label which recommended filling the new tank to capacity, EnergyUSA delivered only 200 gallons to the 1,000 gallon tank on April 29, 2010.  This, according to the reports, probably caused the odorant to fade.

The family of Mr. Nichols is appalled at the gross errors that lead to the explosion and horrified by the manner in which he died.  “Billy was a charm to everyone who knew him. It pains us to think that he was pinned beneath two stories of burning debris for an hour and a half with burns over 80% of his body” said Mark Nichols.

Mark Nichols added, “Our family is thankful to the heroic firefighters and paramedics who crawled into the smoldering wreckage to save him. They held his face above the flooding basement  water so that he would not drown.”

Nichols also said.  “We hope that Billy did not die in vain.  The public should understand the extreme dangers posed by non-odorized and undectable propane leaking into our homes and businesses.  We do not want any other families to suffer the nightmarish experience of losing a loved one like this.”

Breakstone urged that new safety standards be implemented to prevent similar explosions. He said, “It is vital that we have stricter standards in Massachusetts to ensure that propane gas is properly odorized and that all appropriate precautions are taken to prevent odorant fade.”

He added, “It has been known in the propane industry since the 1950’s that the chemical odorant which makes propane detectable to a ‘sniff test’ will fade over time.  It is equally well known that simple steps can be taken to prevent this from happening in the future.”