Friday, Jan 15–House Explosion Civil Suit Settled

SNOW HILL – The long, strange trip that the $10.6 million civil suit, filed by the Injured Workers Insurance Fund (IWIF) and a group Snow Hill firefighters injured when a gas leak caused a house to explode in 2002, had become essentially ended this week when both parties announced they had reached an undisclosed settlement in the case.

At a pre-trial hearing in Snow Hill on Monday, parties in the civil suit announced a settlement had been reached, effectively ending the case’s long odyssey. As a condition of the settlement, the terms have not been made public. A stipulation of the dismissal with prejudice is to be submitted within two weeks.

Thirteen Snow Hill volunteer firefighters injured in the Labor Day 2002 home explosion, along with IWIF, filed suit against Eastern Shore Gas in 2005, alleging the company’s negligence caused the explosion that put them in harm’s way. Also named as plaintiffs in the case were six spouses of the injured firefighters because of personal and economic damages sustained by their husbands. IWIF was included as a plaintiff because the insurer had been paying and continues to pay benefits to the 13 injured firefighters and their families.

The case was first heard in Worcester County Circuit Court in December 2006 when the judge granted an Eastern Shore Gas motion for summary judgment, essentially ruling on the side of the defendants. IWIF and the Snow Hill firefighters then appealed the lower court’s decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals about a month after the motion for summary judgment was granted at the Circuit Court level.

In October 2008, the Court of Special Appeals issued a mandate in the case, neither affirming or reversing the Circuit Court’s ruling, but remanding the case back to the lower court for further trial. After months of legal wrangling on both sides, the case was laid in for a 13-day trial in Circuit Court that was supposed to begin on Monday, but the parties reached a settlement before the proceedings began.

A single-family home on Bay Street in Snow Hill exploded shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2002, killing Eastern Shore Gas employee Ignatius Daniel Saienni and injuring 17, including 13 Snow Hill firefighters and four civilians. The Snow Hill Volunteer Fire Department responded en masse to the scene of the reported gas leak and was participating in the investigation of its source when the house suddenly exploded.