Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW), City and Two Contractors Blamed in Wrongful Death Lawsuit for 2019 Gas Explosion

Philadelphia gas works (PGW), city and two contractors blamed in wrongful death lawsuit for 2019 gas explosion that killed 28-year-old south Philly man.

The family of Brian Diu, the 28-year-old South Philadelphia resident killed in the December 19, 2019 Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) pipeline leak and explosion along the 1400 block of South 8th Street, is suing the utility, America’s largest municipally-owned gas company. The wrongful death, negligence, and survivors action asserts that PGW must be held accountable for failing to replace the “ticking time bomb” network of disintegrating century-old iron pipes like the one that cracked then detonated, killing Mr. Diu, a retail customer service representative, as he slept in the family’s house.

The lawsuit (Estate of Brian Diu v. Philadelphia Gas Works, et al., Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Filing No. 211101449) was filed late yesterday by lawyers from Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C.,  who represent Mr. Diu’s estate, administered by Connie Diu, his sister. She lived in the brick row house at 1437 S. 8th Street (seen below before and after the explosion) along with Brian, her older brother, a younger brother, and their parents. The three-story residence was leveled in the blast that destroyed four other houses and claimed another local resident. The lawsuit also names as defendants the City of Philadelphia and two local plumbing contractors – Bart Emanuel & Son Plumbing and Heating, Inc. and Lepore Plumbing, Inc. It includes a request for a jury trial and demands compensatory and punitive damages.

The City and PGW, according to the complaint, had “actual knowledge” based on their own engineering studies, and past catastrophic incidents, that the corroding gas lines servicing Diu’s block were susceptible to cracks and leaks and “were likely to cause violent explosions like the kind that killed Brian Diu.”

“The defendants’ conduct was reprehensible and is indefensible,” said Steven G. Wigrizer, who heads Diu’s legal team at SMB. “The incredibly close-knit Diu family remains in shock at the loss of Brian and fears for the lives of others throughout Philadelphia whose gas service is provided by PGW. They’ve asked us to do all we can to make PGW’s historically unsafe system –  responsible for death and destruction– safe, once and for all.”

SMB trial lawyer Jason S. Weiss added, “The plaintiffs are determined to hold accountable all those responsible for Brian’s senseless and preventable death, and at trial intend to have answered the many deeply troubling questions about events leading up to the lethal leak, explosion, and its aftermath. Brian Diu would be alive today if the City’s gas system was properly maintained.” Besides Mr. Weiss and Mr. Wigrizer, SMB attorney Aidan B. Carickhoff represents Connie Diu and her late brother’s estate.
Attorney Warren I. Siegel, of Bernhardt, Rothermerel, Siegel, PC., represents the estate of Rudy Kambong, also killed in the explosion, and. expects to soon file a similar action on his behalf.

“My brother was the kindest, most caring person whose life centered on our family. He was always there for us, sacrificing for us, whether helping out our hard-working Vietnamese immigrant parents or our little brother, who adored him,” said Connie Diu, a software engineer. Brian loved us and our customs, like nightly family dinners; he’d want us to sound the alarm to alert all those in his beloved Philadelphia – particularly South Philly – about what happened and to fight for justice to prevent other senseless deaths.”

Mr. Wigrizer, who led  an intensive pre-suit investigation before today’s filing, added, “The City owns PGW and cannot shirk its responsibilities to safeguard all of its citizens. Instead, Philadelphia’s municipal government has failed miserably to work with its wholly-owned gas utility to impose any meaningful safety measures that could have prevented this foreseeable tragedy. In an insult to the Diu family and other Philadelphians, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, city officials counseled residents – many of whom were suffering loss of smell from Covid  – to sniff the air then report any signs of a natural gas leak to avoid future disasters. Could they have been any more callous, reckless and ignorant of the looming dangers?”

To buttress their claims the complaint includes numerous allegations of widespread failures by the defendants, including:

  • Moving at a “glacial pace” to replace its aging pipeline infrastructure when it should have made it a top priority to avoid loss of life, including the 2011 death in the Tacony neighborhood of one of its own PGW employees responding to a gas leak.
  • Ignoring their own expert’s reports on the compromised pipelines, notably a 2012 SNL Energy study that revealed thousands of pipeline leaks: nearly one leak per mile, and a separate highly critical Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC ) report that warned: “PGW’s aging infrastructure and leak rates are particularly concerning given that its territory is largely urban and is a high-population area, which can pose a potential threat to life.” 
  • Denying the citizens of Philadelphia a public hearing in 2014 on a $1 billion-plus proposed purchase of the utility by a highly capitalized and competent private utility company that planned to expedite replacement of the crumbling pipelines. 
  • Regarding plumbing contractors Bart Emanuel and Lepore, who were working on ruptured water main repairs in the neighborhood immediately before the explosion, that they performed “underground  plumbing and excavation work in a manner that caused the ground in and around the subject pipeline to put undue pressure upon the subject pipeline, causing it to crack, leak, and explode.”

Note: All interview requests will be coordinated through counsel (see contact information below). Additional photographs related to the filing can be viewed at PGW Explosion Photos.

Contacts:

Steven G. Wigrizer / swigrizer@smbb.com / 215-575-2969
Jason S. Weiss / jweiss@smbb.com / 215-575-2992
Warren I. Siegel / warren@brspc.com / 215-568-0100
Steph Rosenfeld / steph@idadvisors.com / 215-514-4101

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