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Six of seven Sissonville blast lawsuits settled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- All but one of seven lawsuits filed last month over last year's massive gas line explosion in Sissonville have been settled.

Several Sissonville residents sued NiSource and its subsidiary, Columbia Gas Transmission, in Kanawha Circuit Court over December's massive gas line explosion and fire.

In seven separate lawsuits, the residents alleged the companies and others didn't "exercise due care" in maintaining the transmission pipeline that ruptured.

No one was killed or seriously injured, but the Dec. 11 explosion and blaze destroyed houses and sent flames shooting nearly 100 feet into the air on both sides of Interstate 77, melting asphalt and guardrails.

The blast occurred on a segment of 20-inch-diameter natural gas transmission line that was installed in 1967, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The lawsuits, filed for the residents by Warner Law Offices of Charleston, allege the companies failed to adequately train employees in safety inspection in regard to maintaining the gas transmission lines. They also allege inadequate emergency response training.

The amounts agreed on are confidential, according to plaintiff's attorney Bobby Warner.

"We're pleased with the results," he said.

Warner said Tuesday that only a lawsuit filed by Margaret Johnson remains. He said mediation in that case has been unsuccessful.

"She was actually present at the scene," he said. "She witnessed what happened and she's had to continue to live in that house. She's tried to sell that house but really has no options and is forced to live there."

Johnson's lawsuit says she was sitting in her home at 7345 Sissonville Drive when the explosion occurred.

"Feeling the heat from the flames and seeing the flames around her home soon after the loud boom of the explosion, [Johnson] ran from her home barefoot and in her pajamas fearing that she would be killed if she remained in the home," the suit states.

The heat from the blast blistered Johnson's feet and she injured her hand trying to escape in her car, her suit alleges.

All of the lawsuits alleged the residents suffered mental anguish, anxiety, humiliation, fear and stress, among other things. They lost personal property and their homes are diminished in value.

Also named as defendants in the cases are company employees who were involved in managing how NiSource and Columbia Gas inspect and repair pipelines, or in the direct response to the Sissonville explosion.

A preliminary NTSB report said the first notification to NiSource of the event came from a Cabot Oil & Gas controller who had received a report of a rupture from a field technician who was near the location of the accident. NTSB officials estimate the explosion took place at 12:41 p.m. and the call to NiSource from Cabot at 12:53 p.m.

NTSB officials also have said the pipeline was not equipped with automatic or remote shutoff valves. NiSource crews, the NTSB has said, were not able to manually shut off the flow of gas to the fire until 1:45 p.m.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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