Family hurt in pipeline explosion files suit

November 13, 2009 4:11:46 AM PST
A family whose members suffered burns when a natural gas pipeline exploded last week in the Texas Panhandle filed a negligence lawsuit Thursday against the companies that own and operate it. The Torres family filed the suit in Potter County against the pipeline's owner, El Paso Natural Gas Co.; its parent company, Houston-based El Paso Corp.; and the pipeline operator, Atmos Energy Corp.

Company spokesman declined to comment.

Kevin Glasheen, the Lubbock attorney representing the family, said the suit was filed so soon after the explosion to ensure that evidence at the blast site is preserved.

"There are issues there with maintenance and pipelines don't blow up if they're maintained," he said.

The 24-inch pipeline exploded near Bushland, 15 miles west of Amarillo, about 1 a.m. on Nov. 5. The blast shook homes, melted window blinds and shot flames hundreds of feet into the air that were seen 20 miles away. The blast left a hole about 30 yards by 20 yards and close to 15 feet deep.

Federal pipeline investigators continued to look into the cause of the explosion.

According to a statement from Glasheen's firm, the Torres home was about 100 yards from where the pipeline exploded. Three members of the family were injured.

The family's mother and father, Alfredo and Agnieszka Torres, have been released from an Amarillo hospital.

Franczeska Torres, 15, remained in a Lubbock hospital's burn unit Thursday with serious burns to 30 percent of her body, Glasheen said. She suffered burns to her face, legs and hands, the release said.

In 2007, El Paso Natural Gas agreed to a $15.5 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and pipeline safety regulators involving an explosion near Carlsbad, N.M., in 2000 that killed 12 members of a family who were camped near the pipeline.

The corporation also committed to spending $86 million to modify the 10,000-mile pipeline system.

A civil trial involving emotional distress claims by first responders to the Carlsbad blast is under way in Roswell, N.M. and was expected to last several more weeks.

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