Explosion in an Underground Storage Tank Leaves Young Man Paraplegic & Severely Burned
A young man was assigned to work on the outside of an underground storage tank that had been used at a gas station to store gasoline with ethanol. This older tank had developed leak years before, so a lining had been installed to allow the tank to continue to be used. After lining was installed the distribution of gas with ethanol had begun and the tank with its lining began leaking again. The young man was to help prepare the tank to be relined a second time so that it could continue to be used.
Unknown to the young man or his employer, but plaintiff’s investigation showed that this was known by the manufacturer and distributor of the gas with ethanol. The gas and ethanol combination caused the tank liner to not only soften but to retain gas even after the tank had been completely empty. The gas in the lining evaporated after the tank was empty, filling the tank with highly combustible gas fumes. The young man was assigned the task of grinding on the opening into the tank as part of the process of installing a new liner.
As the young man was grinding, the grinding wheel fractured and a portion dropped into the tank. The tank exploded. As a result, the young man was thrown over 50 feet from the top of the storage tank and was left paralyzed. In addition, he suffered burns over 50% of his body.
Plaintiff’s investigation required significant discovery concerning the distribution process of gasohol locally and nationally, but also analysis of the regulations concerning underground storage tanks, the chemical make up of the linings used in such tanks, and the ground analysis of the area around the gas station in question. Before selecting a jury, plaintiff agreed to negotiate with the gasohol manufacturer and the gasohol distributor. The parties agreed to settle the case in front of the trial judge.