$5,900,000 – Gas Explosion Injuries and Home Devastation

Settlements worth nearly $5.9 million were reached last week in suits stemming from a natural gas explosion in that leveled two homes and injured four construction workers.

The workers were replacing sidewalks and, according to the suits, hit a gas line due to a series of miscommunications that resulted in utility workers marking the underground utility lines at the wrong address.

Attorneys Robert J. Mongeluzzi and Brian E. Fritz of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky said the lion’s share of the settlements will go to Richard Baldwin, a construction worker who suffered burns over 72 percent of his body and spent a month in the hospital.

Through a complicated series of settlements, Baldwin will be paid about $4.4 million, and the other three workers will be paid a total of $500,000.

Another $1 million will be shared by the owners of the two destroyed homes and their neighbors who suffered injuries and property damage. Lawsuits were filed in Superior Court in New Castle County, Del., but court approval of the settlements isn’t necessary.

According to court papers, on July 2, 2003, Baldwin was working as the backhoe operator for Quickform Concrete, a contractor hired by to excavate sidewalks.

Before they began work on a section of sidewalk in the 1800 block of Third Street, the area had been marked by Tech Consultants, another contractor acting as the city’s coordinating agent.

The miscommunications allegedly began when Tech Consultants modified the job to add another address, but gave the wrong number to the utility workers who marked the underground lines.

The suits cast liability on numerous companies that played roles in the events that led up to the accident, including Tech Consultants, Quickform, its parent company, Daisy Construction, the city, and Delmarva Power.

A Daisy manager failed to show up when the utility workers marked the sidewalks with spray paint, blue for water, yellow for gas, and red for electric, the suits said.

And the city allegedly had no system in place for ensuring that the information given to the workers who marked the sidewalks was correct.

According to the suit, the Quickform workers had no idea that one of the addresses they were excavating had never been marked.

About 10 minutes after Baldwin hit the gas line with the backhoe he was operating, the gas that had accumulated in the basement of one of the homes exploded, razing two houses and hurling a fireball and debris toward the workers.

Baldwin, who was in the direct path of the fireball, was in a coma for three weeks with burns over 72 percent of his body, according to the suit.

In the settlement, Quickform paid $1 million that was divided among the homeowners and neighbors.

Tech Consultants contributed $2 million to the settlement, $500,000 of which was paid to the other three workers.

Although the four workers were employed by Quickform and therefore were barred from suing the company due to workers’ compensation law, Baldwin brought claims against Daisy Management Group, another subsidiary of Daisy Construction, alleging that the accident was partially caused by the negligence of his manager.

Mongeluzzi said discovery in the case showed that the manager was paid from a separate corporation, clearing the way to pursue claims that would otherwise have been barred by workers’ comp law.

Daisy Management contributed more than $1.8 million to the settlement, Mongeluzzi said, and its insurer also agreed to reduce Baldwin’s workers’ comp lien from $2.4 million to $1 million.

The city also contributed $300,000 to the settlement, and Delmarva Power paid $60,000.

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