Milwaukee Gas-Explosion|Case Headed for Trial


     MILWAUKEE (CN) – An appeals court has revived claims over a Milwaukee home that exploded during a natural-gas leak, injuring the mother and child still inside.
     The Tuesday reversal from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals says a jury could find Milwaukee liable for failing to evacuate residents during a 2009 gas leak.
     Shortly after 2 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2009, several residents placed 911 calls complaining of a natural gas odor in their homes.
     Police officers and firefighters discovered a “strong odor of gas throughout the block” and a “confirmed gas leak … which [was] bubbling,” although the firefighters left the scene to let police and the energy provider handle the situation.
     Mary Oden’s home exploded an hour later while she and her son, Octavius Holt, were inside.
     Police began evacuating residents shortly after the explosion, which left Oden and Holt seriously injured.
     Oden sued the Milwaukee, We Energies and their insurance companies, but a circuit judge granted the city summary judgment after finding that its police and fire crews did not have a “ministerial duty” to evacuate residents.
     The city argued that, because We Energies provided gas-leak response training to its fire department, the company was responsible for evacuating residents.
     But the Wisconsin Appeals Court found Tuesday that the act of delegating the training to We Energies held the city liable.
     “The city implemented its legislative actions by delegating responsibility to We Energies for training first responders on how to respond to natural gas emergencies,” Judge Joan Kessler wrote for a three-member panel. “The First Respondent Handbook accompanied the 2008 training. The responsibility for developing the training manual was also effectively delegated to We Energies by the city. That handbook is the only written protocol available in this record describing how city employees are to handle natural gas emergencies, and was effectively adopted by the city when it delegated specialized training authority to We Energies.”
     That action of delegating both emergency-response training by the fire department and performance requirements in the First Responder Handbook have MFD a ministerial duty, according to the ruling.
     Milwaukee thus “has no immunity,” Kessler wrote.
     “It is undisputed that the nature of the gas leak created a serious danger,” the decision states. “A jury could conclude that responding members of the MFD [Milwaukee Fire Department] were negligent if they failed to follow the ministerial duties described above. Consequently, summary judgment for the city was improper.”
     Judge Kitty Brennan and reserve Judge Thomas Cane rounded out the appellate panel, which remanded the case to circuit court.

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