A negligence lawsuit, filed in McKean County Court in December by the victim of a 2011 house explosion, will be moving forward after a judge recently denied a motion to dismiss the suit.
Thomas Federspiel — who had resided at 10 Helen Lane in Bradford prior to a Feb. 28, 2011, explosion and fire which destroyed his house — filed suit against Bruce and Tina George of West Washington Street.
Federspiel was outside at the time of the blast, and escaped serious injury.
The state Department of Environmental Protection investigated the explosion, found migrating gas coming from at least one nearby well, said Bruce George was the owner/operator of eight abandoned wells on a nearby West Washington Street property and ordered him to plug three of the wells — known as Rodgers 9, 52 and 54. In July of 2011, the DEP issued a public statement, saying gas migration from the George wells had caused the explosion at Federspiel’s home.
The lawsuit identified the same three wells, one of which was within 275 feet of Federspiel’s home, and the two others, within 800 feet. All three wells were identified as being owned by the Georges, the suit alleged.
Federspiel was standing next to the home when the explosion took place, and was “propelled backwards” by the blast, according to the suit. The explosion and subsequent fire were “caused by the entry of natural gas into the Federspiel home via a floor drain located in the basement.” One of the George’s wells, Rodgers 9, was “found to have combustible gas in the soil around the well head, ranging from 3.5 percent to 60 percent,” the suit read.
The Georges “owed a duty of care to the owners of adjacent properties” to maintain the wells so as not to cause damage to nearby properties and owners; and to conduct oil and gas activities safely and not allow natural gas into neighboring homes, the suit read. That duty of care was breached by failing to plug the wells prior to the explosion, and by failing to take steps to prevent natural gas from entering adjacent properties, according to the lawsuit.
Federspiel is seeking in excess of $300,000 in the suit.
In February, the Georges filed a preliminary objection to Federspiel’s complaint, saying they were not the owners or operators of the wells in question, and that the wells had been abandoned prior to the Georges acquiring the real property where the wells were located. They argued that the owner of the wells should be the one Federspiel is suing, and argued for a dismissal of the case.
In a response to the objection, Federspiel’s attorney denies that the Georges did not own or operate the wells, as Bruce George was cited by the state DEP following the explosion investigation; signed DEP forms as the “well owner;” plugged the wells at the request of the DEP; and declined to file an appeal to the DEP ruling.
In April, McKean County Judge Christopher Hauser overruled the Georges’ objections, allowing the suit to continue.