Grilling and barbecuing are a favorite part of many summer gatherings, providing a welcome change from everyday meal rotations and giving hosts a chance to spend more time outdoors with their guests instead of alone in the kitchen. About 70% of U.S adults own a grill or smoker of some kind, and many enjoy them on a regular basis without incident, but unfortunately, not all outdoor cooking setups are equal from a safety perspective.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), grills cause an average of 10,200 home structure fires every year, and 84% of the grills involved run on gas, as opposed to solid fuels like charcoal. In addition to the burns and property damage from gas grill fires, many of these fires start with an explosion, which can also cause concussive and shrapnel injuries to anyone in the vicinity.
Gas grill explosions and burns can happen when users don’t observe or aren’t educated in safety best practices, but they can also happen without warning when grill manufacturers, gas providers, and installation/maintenance teams make negligent mistakes.
If you’ve been injured in or lost someone to a gas grill explosion, The Stoddard Firm can help.
Problems with Flammable Gas Setups Can Be Dangerously Difficult to Detect
The two most common gases used for cooking are methane and propane, both of which are naturally odorless and invisible. Gas providers usually infuse their products with ethylmercaptan — one of the naturally occurring compounds that contribute to the smells of rot and manure — to help customers detect leaks. However, the process of maintaining adequate odor levels is a complicated one, and leaking gas that travels through dirt and similar substances may lose its added odor before reaching users. Mistakes happen, and gas companies have been taken to court over reportedly undetectable leaks.
Even when gas is properly odorized, it can collect undetected in enclosed, isolated spaces. That’s what happened inside one closed gas grill in Wilmington, North Carolina during the summer of 2019. A woman was visiting a friend for a grilled dinner in her apartment, and after they’d eaten, she offered to help clean the grill, which was out on the patio. The grill had not been properly shut down, and when she opened it, the collected gas ignited and engulfed her in flames. She was taken to a hospital for extensive skin grafts and survived, but she will have nerve damage and severe scarring for the rest of her life.
Grills Can Be Dangerous Before Use, During Use, and Even When in Storage
Many grill explosions happen when the user is preparing or lighting the grill for use. For example, in June of 2019 in Auburn, New York, a man’s propane grill exploded as he was trying to light it, burning his hands and face and setting fire to the back of his house. It’s not clear why the grill exploded instead of lighting normally.
Something similar happened to a mother and her five-year-old daughter in Perth, Australia in April of 2020. When their friend was refilling the grill’s ethanol burner, the fuel ignited and exploded. Both mother and daughter had to be hospitalized, for over a month in the daughter’s case, and their grafting scars will also last a lifetime.
Other accidents happen when grills are bumped or jostled during cooking. On Easter Sunday of 2019 in Minnesota, a gas grill tipped over, causing a hose to snap and fill the space with gas. This started a fire, which caused the entire gas cylinder to explode.
Sometimes, even the presence of a gas grill can lead to disaster, with no attempt to use it required. In November of 2019, some residents of Fountain, Colorado heard multiple explosions coming from a private detached garage. One of the neighbors alerted the garage’s owner, who was able to escape before the flames jumped to his home. The homeowner believes that the fire started with the gas cans and propane tanks he was storing in the garage, including the tank for his gas grill.
Owners of gas grills need to be aware of the dangers and how best to mitigate them, but grill manufacturers also have a responsibility to provide their customers with that information and ensure that their products are as safe as possible under normal conditions of use. It’s likely that many if not all of these accidents could have been prevented with better designs and education.
One Accident Can Affect the Lives and Livelihoods of One Family, or Several
The Easter explosion in Minnesota did not cause any injuries worse than a few first-degree burns, but it did destroy two mobile homes and everything the residents owned. That’s a sadly common story for gas grill explosion survivors, both for those using or storing the grills and, often, for those living nearby.
In June of 2020, a gas grill explosion destroyed the upper floors of an entire condo complex in Missouri. The explosion happened on a third-floor balcony. Using a grill on a balcony is always a risky move, because of the impossibility of keeping distance between the grill and the building itself, but one neighbor reported that the woman who raised the alarm had witnessed the gas hose detaching from the grill just before the explosion. Once again, poor design or poor servicing of the equipment seems a likely culprit.
A month after the condo explosion, a family in Connecticut lost their home in the middle of the night to an explosion that fire officials believe started on their deck, either with their gas grill or their propane fireplace. All five family members successfully escaped the flames just after 3:00 in the morning.
Neighbors of a survivor in Louisiana say they saw him running down the street away from his burning house just before an explosion burst through the roof in September of 2019. Firefighters were able to contain the fire, but not without damage. In that case, investigators attributed the accident to grilling in close proximity with other combustibles, but even grill users who do their best to keep a safe distance from buildings and flammable materials can suffer injuries and losses.
One homeowner who was grilling out in the yard in New York State in 2020 ended up with a gas fire that spread to the deck and finally the house before firefighters arrived. When they did, they found that the homeowner had managed to douse the flames with a garden hose but suffered injuries that required hospital care. Without such quick action, the whole house could have been lost.
Restaurant Workers Face Particular Risks
Home grilling enthusiasts aren’t the only people who can be hurt by faulty or badly maintained gas grills.
In June of 2020, a propane tank exploded outside of MacGregor’s Restaurant in Maryland. Investigators traced the accident to a loose fuel line. Several employees were injured, though all refused hospital treatment.
Two months later, another explosion occurred in a Pino’s Pizza in Virginia, which investigators believe also started with a propane tank. Three employees were rushed to a local medical center with injuries including second-degree burns.
In cases like these, employers may also share liability for failing to provide a safe work environment.
Fire Departments Advise Extreme Caution When Using Gas Grills
Following the condo fire in Missouri, the Jackson Fire Department made a statement advising residents to be careful with gas grills and offering some tips. Other fire departments, including Hammond, Indiana and Santa Monica, California, along with the UCHealth Burn Center, have unfortunately had plenty of reason to do the same after various incidents over the years.
Recommended steps users can take to make gas grilling as safe as possible include:
- Keeping grills as far away from buildings and dry foliage as possible
- Not operating gas grills on balconies
- Spraying gas hoses with soapy water before turning on the gas, so leaks can be seen as well as smelled
- Leaving the grill top open when starting and lighting the grill
- Cleaning grills regularly to prevent flammable fatty buildup
- Having a fire extinguisher readily available
- Keeping children and pets away from grills
- Remaining alert and keeping an adult’s attention on the grill at all times while in use
All of these guidelines can help reduce the danger of gas grilling, but unfortunately, none of them can completely guard against faulty grill designs or gas provider errors.
Gas Providers, Grill Designers, Installers, and Maintenance Companies Can All Share Liability for Explosions
The fact that gas is dangerous seems obvious, but the safest way to handle it often isn’t. That’s why providers of products like gas and gas-powered appliances are legally required to provide clear safety warnings and instructions on correct use.
There are also aspects of owning a gas grill that the average user shouldn’t be expected to handle alone. When a grill owner does the responsible thing and hires a professional to perform an installation or repairs, the owner should be able to trust in that professional’s expertise, but that isn’t always the case.
In Florida in 2020, a gas firepit exploded about a week after it was installed, shattering a deck and knocking a father and daughter off their feet in the shockwave. The mother, who witnessed the explosion from inside the house, reported that the gas company had just performed an inspection but had somehow missed a leak. If that’s the case, the gas company could be held liable for their oversight and the damage it caused, up to and including wrongful death if someone had been killed. Thankfully, the father and daughter only suffered minor shrapnel injuries.
The same duty to prevent harmful mistakes would also apply if the family had hired a third-party company to install, repair, or inspect their gas fire setup, or if the explosion had resulted from a design flaw in the fire pit itself. Every company has a responsibility to protect consumers and the public from foreseeable dangers posed by their products and services, and flammable gases carry well-known dangers that companies need to account for.
What to Do After a Gas Grill Explosion
If you’re near a gas grill when it explodes, your first priority should be minimizing the harm to yourself and others, followed by preventing further disasters, getting help, protecting property, and preparing for the legal aftermath. If you are conscious and able to take action immediately after the blast, follow these steps:
- Drop and roll to extinguish any flames on your clothes.
- Help others smother flames on their bodies and clothes, if necessary and feasible.
- Call for emergency assistance, specifying that there has been a gas explosion.
- If there is an active fire in a small area that is not directly connected with a natural gas line or encroaching on other explosives, such as spare propane tanks, you can attempt to extinguish it if you feel comfortable doing so.
- If there is a danger of further gas explosions, there is no available fire extinguisher, the fire is already either extinguished or out of control, or you do not feel safe fighting the fire for any reason, evacuate the area immediately.
- Make sure everyone who was near the explosion is checked over for injuries when paramedics arrive.
- Seek out qualified legal representation.
The Stoddard Firm has the varied experience in corporate liability and personal injury that you’ll need on your side to win compensation for your medical expenses and property damage. We’ll make sure the judge and jury understand the full extent of what you’ve lost, and exactly how your gas company, grill company, or maintenance company failed to protect you, so that you get the settlement you need to put your life back together.
To get started with a free consultation, reach out any time through our online chat function, or give us a call at 678-RESULT.