- January 29, 2021
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Product Liability
On the evening of December 15th, 2020, 56-year-old Kevin Lee Botsford burned to death in his Pike County home. He was the 91st person to die in a fire in Georgia in 2020 alone.
When firefighters entered the building to attempt a rescue, they witnessed what different agencies described as either an explosion or a venting of gas from a propane tank. After determining that there was no chance of a person still being alive inside, they waited for the structure to be declared safe before retrieving Botsford’s body.
Investigators later found four 20-pound propane tanks on the scene and determined the cause of the fire to be combustible materials stored too close to a heater.
The exact series of events that led to the fire and ultimately to Botsford’s death is not yet clear, but it’s worth taking a closer look at the home’s propane setup and the service it received. If one of the propane tanks malfunctioned, it could have either started the fire or accelerated it to the point where a rescue became impossible.
Relief Valves Are Essential to Propane Safety, but Must Be Properly Installed and Maintained
If the report of one of the tanks venting in front of the firefighters is true, this would refer to a sudden release of gas through the tank’s safety valve.
Propane tanks are built with a safety relief valve that, when it works correctly, will vent excess gas before the pressure level inside the tank can reach unsafe levels and cause a rupture.
When a safety relief valve activates, it releases highly flammable propane gas into the surrounding area. This is not something that should happen during normal propane use. It’s a necessary but dangerous failsafe measure intended solely to prevent an even more dangerous outcome, much like an airbag in a car. If a propane tank vents under everyday circumstances, it means either that the valve is faulty or that the propane company overfilled the tank.
Of course, a house fire is not an everyday circumstance. Extreme heat causes propane to expand rapidly, creating exactly the kind of situation a release valve is designed for. It’s possible that what the firefighters witnessed was simply a propane tank functioning as intended. However, if any of the propane tanks vented prematurely, releasing propane into the home, that could have been what started the fire in the first place, or what caused it to develop so quickly.
If the report of an explosion is true, on the other hand, this would indicate that a tank’s valve failed to function properly, allowing pressure to build up to the point of a catastrophic failure due to the defective product. This should not happen if a propane tank is properly designed and maintained.
Propane Companies Are Required to Provide Safe Equipment, Services, and Information
Even though the use of propane carries inherent dangers, propane companies are required to make their product as safe as possible. This means making sure equipment is free of design and manufacturing flaws, servicing it correctly, and providing customers with comprehensive information about the potential dangers and how to avoid them.
If Botsford’s propane provider failed in any of these duties, it may be liable in his death.