Explosions Above and Below Ground

There were 14 catastrophic multi-death fires and explosions in the U.S. during 2021 and claiming the lives of 65 people, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). (2)

While NFPA tracks explosions and fires happening above ground, explosions are not limited to above-ground structures.

Beneath the streets of New York City (NYC), “lies a chaotic assemblage of utilities that, much like the subway, are lifelines for the city: a sprawling tangle of water mains, power cables, gas and steam lines, telecom wires and sewers,” reports The New York Times. (3)

This infrastructure is frequently subject to fires and explosions, often tossing heavy manhole covers sky high, and inflicting damage and serious harm.

NYC Manhole Cover Explosions

Underground fires and explosions are of special concern in winter. During this season, rock salt is used to melt ice and snow, and there are “freeze-thaw” weather cycles.

Con Edison maintains miles of gas lines running throughout NYC, and “has 246,000 manholes and service boxes in its underground electrical delivery system, which serves 2.5 million New Yorkers.” (4)

According to information obtained through a Freedom of Information Law Request by THE CITY, N.Y. Fire Department records indicated 4,000 dispatches between 2009 and 2018 for manhole cover explosions. (5) This means there were 30-40 manhole cover explosions a month, on average.

For example, in 2018 a taxi cab driver suffered critical injuries leaving him crippled for life. This happened because an explosion sent a heavy metal manhole cover crashing through his cab’s windshield. (6)

Criminal Threat

Manhole cover explosions are not the only explosion hazard. Criminal activity, including domestic terrorism, is on the rise. Many city locations provide ideal targets for terrorists.

These explosions can cause damage, injury, and even death. Survivors of explosions often suffer severe injuries, including burns and face extensive medical treatments with lengthy recovery times.

If you or someone you know was injured in an explosion accident, a lawsuit can help you get the compensation you deserve.

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Explosion Injuries

“The predominant post explosion injuries among survivors involve standard penetrating and blunt trauma. Blast lung is the most common fatal injury among initial survivors,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (7)

The CDC says, “Explosions in confined spaces (mines, buildings, or large vehicles) and/or structural collapse are associated with greater morbidity and mortality.” (8)

Explosion-related injuries includes: (9)

  • Abdominal injury: bowel perforation, ruptured organs.
  • Brain injury: concussion, traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Death.
  • Ear injury: tympanic membrane perforation, cochlear damage.
  • Eye injury: fractures, perforated globe.
  • Lung injury: blast lung (pulmonary barotrauma), pulmonary contusion, and hemorrhage.

Explosion injuries result from: (10)

  • Impact of the over-pressurization wave.
  • Flying debris.
  • Being thrown by the blast wind.
  • Exacerbation or complications of existing conditions.

Since explosion injuries are potentially so severe, it is important to examine the causes of explosions. This can provide a deeper understanding of these accidents and help determine who should be held accountable.

Causes of Explosions

An explosion is simply the “uncontrolled release of (stored) energy.” (11)

More precisely, it is “a sudden and rapid increase in volume and release of energy in an extreme manner. This is usually accompanied by the generation of high temperatures and release of gases caused by changes in pressure, temperature and phase.” (12)

Explosions can be: (13)

  • Chemical — gas igniting, high explosives, and fine dust particles.
  • Electrical or magnetic — arc flashes due to high currents, or an ultra-strong electromagnet causing excessive magnetic pressure.
  • Mechanical failure — changes to safe operating conditions of machinery or equipment.

Residential Explosions

Most residential explosions occur when operating equipment or appliances, or are due to gas — for example, leaks in heating systems. Also, some residential explosions may involve the improper disposal of ashes from fireplaces or smoking, or the incorrect storage of flammable materials.

Faulty wiring in buildings also can lead to explosions. As can the use of faulty recreational equipment — such as propane grills or outdoor fire pits — especially when being used on apartment balconies.

Industrial Explosions

Industrial explosions can be caused by activities like welding, sawing, or drilling, and the sparks these produce. Or they may be due to electrical hazards, such as exposed wires or overloaded outlets and circuits. (14)

Another cause can be machinery, where there is friction between moving parts. For instance, the moving parts in an automobile engine create friction, possibly leading to an explosion. Also, poorly maintained vehicles break down and can cause explosions.

Likewise, flammable gasses and liquids may explode if they are improperly stored or as they move through pipelines. (15)

The cause of an explosion helps to determine who may be held accountable for the damage done and injuries sustained.

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Legal Options

Explosion accident cases legally may fall under negligence. Negligence is a legal concept where a person or business fails to “behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” (16)

Negligence is applied to situations where someone is hurt in an explosion because landlords or building owners failed to do something they should have. Examples include failure to properly install or maintain gas appliances.

It can also apply when employees or employers fail to follow safety regulations or proper procedures.

Examples of Negligence

For example, you work for a utility company supplying gas to heat homes. The company has not done regular inspections or maintenance on the pipelines delivering the gas.

If an explosion occurs, homes are destroyed and people are injured, including workers like you. The company is liable for the damage and injuries because regular inspections and maintenance are safety measures required by law. The company failed to do them.

Another example might be if you work for a delivery company. A coworker is supposed to check the tires on the delivery vehicles every day, but forgot to check your tires one day.

While driving your route, one of your tires explodes. This causes you to crash and you are seriously injured. The company and your coworker can be held accountable.

Negligence cases are very complex and may take a long time to move through the legal process. Experienced attorneys can help make the process go more smoothly. They can also handle insurance claims, negotiate a settlement on your behalf, and represent you in court.

How Weitz & Luxenberg Can Help

Weitz & Luxenberg has successfully represented clients in complex personal injury cases for over 30 years. We are proud to have helped clients secure compensation for the harm done to them.

Here are some cases we are most proud of:

  • A bungee cord accident caused a teenage boy to lose sight in one eye. W&L recovered $10 million on behalf of the boy.
  • A man suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall from a high rise apartment building walkway. The walkway was lacking fencing around its outer edge and W&L negotiated a multimillion-dollar settlement.