Lessons Learned From Previous Fires And Explosions

ASW's Extensive Explosion & Fire Experience

Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP has learned from its extensive experience representing victims of explosions and fires.

Lesson One: Prompt investigation is necessary on the issue of cause and origin.

No matter how "clear" the case may appear, there always are facts that can be interpreted by experts to provide alternative versions of what happened and why it happened. This makes immediate investigation crucial. Explosion and fire personal injury victims, families of those wrongfully killed, or property damage victims must move quickly to determine facts and preserve the physical evidence. The National Transportation Safety Board will eventually issue a report, but this may take months or years. It would be detrimental and unwise for victims to wait for this report.

In the Hunters Point fire case, the attorneys of Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP conducted an extensive investigation immediately. Through this investigation, it was determined that an electrical outlet was an important piece of evidence that needed preservation. It also was determined that the burning of a polyurethane foam cushion in furniture may have produced cyanide which caused victims to become unconscious at the fire scene resulting in death from smoke inhalation and/or carbon monoxide poisoning. The attorneys of Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP located and purchased an exemplar for comparison and testing to prove that this is what occurred.

Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP's initial investigation into the Cathedral Hill Hotel fire in San Francisco led to a similar discovery. In that case, attorneys at Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP represented a commercial tenant who was caught in the fire and sustained serious pulmonary injuries along with the loss of his business. Again, plaintiff's injuries were exacerbated by toxic chemicals resulting from the burning of furniture.

Lesson Two: It is essential to immediately retain the best experts.

There are a limited number of top-notch expert witnesses available that are knowledgeable about explosions and fires. It is important to get an expert team assembled early to insure that the smartest and most experienced experts are on our side to help win the case. The better the expert team, the better the chances that a victim will prevail against a big company or public entity on the other side.

The attorneys of Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP have a reputation for carefully selecting experts early in the case. In the Oakland hills fire case, Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP located a UC Berkeley botanist who created the fire safety plan for the Oakwood Apartment complex when it was built. The fire safety landscaping plan, which was adopted by the City of Oakland, required that the apartment complex replace existing flammable eucalyptus trees with safer plants and trees. The apartment complex ignored this requirement for years. During the Oakland hills fire, the large eucalyptus trees caught fire easily and essentially cooked people trying to escape on Charing Cross Road, located immediately above the apartment complex.

Also in the Oakland hills fire case, Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP identified and retained an expert from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. This individual was one of the leading experts in the world on wildland urban interface fires. The defense was incapable of matching his testimony.

Added to the team which included the UC Berkeley botanist and the MIT wildland urban interface fire expert, was one of the world's best fire modelers. This expert offered convincing opinions as to the spread of the fire and what the defendants should have been able to predict in an area where there had been many previous fires.

In the recent Walnut Creek gas explosion case, Abramson Smith Waldsmith. LLP retained Dr. Robert Bea of UC Berkeley early in the case. Dr. Bea is a leading engineering expert on pipelines transporting gas and oil products. In fact, he was retained in the British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil spill in May 2010 to assess what had occurred. In the BP case, Dr. Bea concluded BP had "messed up." He explained his opinions and conclusions recently on CBS's 60 Minutes.

In the Walnut Creek gas explosion case, Dr. Bea advised Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP that defendant Kinder Morgan was negligent in marking the pipeline. This explained why an excavator struck the pipeline and ultimately caused the huge explosion and deadly fireball.

Beyond Dr. Bea, the attorneys of Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP also retained experts in pipeline welding and metallurgy in the Walnut Creek explosion case because the plaintiff was a welding contractor.

Lesson three: Common themes recur in major explosion and fire cases.

One theme is profits over safety. Contractors are often in a hurry to install pipelines and finish construction projects. This often means that unreasonable shortcuts are taken. One example of a dangerous cost-saving shortcut is poor welding. Another is inadequate inspections of completed pipelines, welds, and projects. Sophisticated equipment exists for inspecting pipelines but it is often not used because companies are more interested in saving money.

Another theme in major explosion and fire cases is inaccuracy in the maps of underground lines and pipes. While installing the lines and pipes, changes regularly are made in the field in reaction to topography and trees. These changes are not necessarily accurately recorded on a map. This increases the chances of inadvertent line contact by excavators. This is what happened in the Walnut Creek explosion case described above.

There are many other recurring themes in explosion and fire cases including smoke detector failures, the failure to appreciate the toxic nature of furnishings, wall coverings and floor coverings in structure fires, and failure of a building owner to appreciate the explosion or fire risk of allowing certain types of tenants (e.g. the Bayview Industrial Park explosion where the landlord rented space to an illegal fireworks company resulting in the roof being blown off the building).

Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP has learned these lessons through its extensive experience over the last thirty plus years. It is particularly well positioned to analyze the usual issues in these cases and retain the best possible expert team in a short period of time. It knows how to approach explosion and fire cases to maximize a victim's recovery.

Contact an Experienced San Francisco Bay Fire & Explosion Law Firm

If you or a loved one has suffered a burn injury or property loss in a fire or explosion due to another's negligence or recklessness, we encourage you to contact our personal injury law offices today.