Propane Explosion Victim’s Family Settles for $7.5 Million in Norfolk Case

marcbreakstone_125.jpgAttorney Marc L. Breakstone of Breakstone, White & Gluck in Boston has announced a $7.5 million settlement has been reached for an electrician killed in a propane gas explosion at a Norfolk, Massachusetts condominium complex.

Breakstone and the family of William “Billy” Nichols announced the settlement on July 9, nearly two years after Nichols died in the July 30, 2010 propane explosion. Breakstone represented the Nichols family and filed a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf against EnergyUSA Propane and Smolinsky Brothers Heating and Plumbing.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleged EnergyUSA negligently underfilled a new propane tank at the complex where Nichols had been working. By underfilling the tank, the company caused the chemical odorant to fade, making propane undetectable when it started to leak.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleged Smolinsky Brothers Heating and Plumbing carelessly failed to tighten a connection to the furnace which led to the leak of the undetectable propane gas.

Breakstone called the propane explosion a “terrible tragedy that could easily have been avoided.” Nichols, 46, of Blackstone, was buried under burning debris for 97 minutes before he was rescued by local firefighters. He was crushed by smoldering debris, had severe burns over 80 percent of his body and called on rescuers to say goodbye to his fiance and other family members. He was transported by MedFlight helicopter to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he died that evening from the burns and injuries.

During litigation, Breakstone said he discovered EnergyUSA Propane sold its assets to a publicly-traded energy company for $66.8 million to avoid the likelihood of paying punitive damages in a jury trial. Breakstone obtained a court-order freeze on the remaining company cash assets.

As a result of Nichols’ death, Massachusetts is expected to introduce new regulations this fall which will ensure better safety training for propane delivery personnel as well as require newly installed propane storage tanks be filled to the maximum liquid level to avoid the odorant fade problem that caused this propane explosion.

Click for coverage in The Boston Globe, WBZ-TV, WCVB and Wicked Local.

Click here to read the July 9, 2012 media release.

Click here to read the statement from Norfolk Fire Chief Coleman C. Bushnell.
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