Propane Tank Explosions in California: Safety and Responsibility

San Jose, CA Personal Injury Attorney

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Propane tanks are often a sign of summer, as more people fire up their backyard grills. Many other people, such as mobile home residents, use them all year round for heat, motor fuel or off-the-grid refrigeration. But whatever the season - winter, spring, summer or fall - leaks, defective parts and other problems can lead to explosions. These explosions injure thousands of people every year in California and across the country.

When propane tanks explode, the effect can be devastating and sometimes deadly. A single leak in a motor home can lead to an explosion that destroys the entire trailer. In the recent fires in the Tehachapi Mountains, exploding propane tanks turned the sky bright red despite the black smoke. When tanker trucks carrying propane rollover on the road, there is a risk of catastrophic conflagration right on the interstate.

What causes propane tanks to explode? When propane gas is compressed to be transported in liquid form, it remains highly combustible. Common problems that can lead to explosions include faulty pressure valves, leaks and breaks in the connection between the tank and the apparatus it is fueling.

Preventing propane explosions starts with personal responsibility. Particularly around grills, there are several safety practices that should be followed. These include:

  • Checking for leaks
  • Inspection of the spark igniter
  • Turning off the propane tank upon smelling gas
  • Keeping gas hoses away from hot surfaces and dripping grease

In addition, propane tanks - whether they are being used for grilling or some other use - should always be stored upright, never laid on their sides.

Legal responsibility for injuries caused by propane explosions depends on the facts of each case. Manufacturers of defective tanks, barbecue grills or other equipment can be held accountable through product liability lawsuits. Propane suppliers who fail to connect the tanks properly may also be held liable.

Responsibility for accidents involving propane tanker trucks is subject to some very specific federal regulations. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently examining whether to require additional safeguards on these trucks in order to prevent rollovers. Federal concerns were heightened after an incident last year in Indiana, in which a propane tanker tank hit a guardrail and exploded on a busy interstate, injuring five people and sending a fiery cloud into the sky.

In California, both state and federal law are involved in the regulation of pipelines carrying propane. The safety standards are federal, but enforcement of those standards is governed by the states public utilities code.

It is important to stay safe and be vigilant when handling propane tanks. If an accident should occur, speak to a personal injury attorney to explain the circumstances of your situation and learn more about your legal options.

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John J. Garvey, III
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