Fire & Explosion
Ready whenever and wherever you need us.
For over 40 years, our attorneys have represented corporations and individuals connected with catastrophic, high-profile fires and explosions ranging from residential and hotel fires to industrial explosions and terrorist attacks. We serve as national and regional counsel in fire, explosion, and electrical contact matters on behalf of product manufacturers, distributors, contractors, service providers, and energy suppliers.
With our extensive technical experience and veteran trial team, we are regarded as one of the foremost fire and explosion litigation firms in the United States. Our deep understanding of both the legal nuances and the chemical and industrial processes at issue in fire and explosion cases enables us to pursue the best course of action for protecting your company’s product, services, and reputation.
Vice Office Partner-in-Charge
Practice Group Leader
We have unrivaled experience across the entire spectrum of fire and explosion risk, both technical and legal. Technically, we are skilled in site investigations and procedures (like NFPA 921 and NFPA 54), expert depositions, Daubert challenges, and sophisticated legal arguments and theories. Our team’s legal capabilities are not limited to traditional issues and damages such as products liability, negligence, workers’ compensation, wrongful death, property damage and business interruption, but also includes knowledge of chemical and industrial processes, cause and origin, fire spread, confined space issues, building design, fire suppression, smoke toxicity, superseding criminal acts, OSHA citations and other regulatory agencies, and resulting media coverage.
Success in fire and explosion cases is aided by strong relationships within the small community of experts. Our extensive experience and portfolio of cases have allowed us to forge key connections with technical and specialized experts that could be involved in your case, providing a distinct advantage regardless of the size of the incident.
When news breaks of a major fire or explosion anywhere across the country, we can mobilize a team to assist you within a few hours. We recognize that no matter where a fire occurs, it will have a significant impact on the community. We approach these cases understanding that a tragic event has occurred in the lives of many people. Everyone on our team understands the sensitive and immediate nature of our work. From collecting and preserving the scene and fire artifacts, analyzing the fire spread, conducting the investigation, and creating timeline of events preceding the incident, we take the necessary steps to be able to scientifically recreate events while respecting the emergency personnel and survivors.
From a single-home fire to an industrial incident, our team provides scalable services to suit your specific need. We bring the knowledge, experience, and dedicated team that is best positioned to execute on your case. Compared to other firms, Frost Brown Todd’s extensive fire litigation experience also allows us to handle everything from pre-suit investigations to trial and appeal (if necessary). Cases with multiple jurisdictions are easily serviced by our strong bench of resources and extensive office footprint.
We cover a broad range of cases, including:
- Chemical Dust Explosions
- Equipment Fires
- Terrorist Acts / Misuse of Products
- Natural Gas Explosions
- Electrical Fires
- Arson Fires
- Consumer Product Fires (including lithium battery and
- oxygen equipment)
- Propane Fires / Explosions
- Construction Method Fires
- Electrical Contact Cases
Frost Brown Todd operates in 14 markets across nine states and Washington, D.C., but our team coverage does not stop there. We have investigated and litigated cases across the entire U.S., from Washington state to Rhode Island and North Dakota to Puerto Rico. Our response is not just broad, it is also rapid. We know time is of the essence for incidents and can reach all 48 contiguous states within 48 hours with our Early Response Network, ensuring your case is handled in the proper expeditious manner.
Timing is critical when your business is at risk.
We recognize that fire and explosion cases can be emotionally charged, as they often involve severe injuries, loss of life and significant property damage. So, we emphasize a rapid, focused response to properly address and preempt any problems that might threaten a company’s core business operations. We also offer a dedicated accident response team that remains on call to assist clients in the first minutes and hours after a serious fire or explosion.
Fire & Explosion Experience
According to a study conducted by the United States Chemical Safety Board, dust explosions and dust generated fires have been linked to hundreds of fatalities since 1980. Dust explosions typically involve significant personal injury and property loss due to the power of such incidents. Legal considerations impact on every phase of fire investigation, including dust explosions. Frost Brown Todd has litigated high profile dust explosion incidents and monitors the policies and recommendations of the Chemical Safety Board. Representative matters include:
CTA Acoustics Plant Explosion
A devastating dust explosion destroyed the CTA Acoustics plant in Corbin, Kentucky. Ultimately, 7 workers died, and more than 40 others suffered grievous personal injuries. Six civil lawsuits with a total of 125 plaintiffs were filed, including a property damage lawsuit claiming damages in excess of $100 million. Frost Brown Todd represented CertainTeed Corporation, one of the two original defendants in the litigation. The Court granted CertainTeed’s motion for summary judgment on all claims asserted by the plant owner.
West Pharmaceutical Services Plant Explosion
A massive dust explosion ripped through the West Pharmaceutical Services Plant in Kinston, North Carolina. Six people died of injuries sustained in the explosion and ensuing fire, and over thirty others were injured. The explosion was investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which issued a report detailing its investigation. Multiple plaintiffs filed civil lawsuits against manufacturers of industrial equipment used in the facility, manufacturers of materials used by West Pharmaceuticals in the rubber manufacturing processes. Plaintiffs claimed damages in excess of $100 million. We represented the manufacturer of a chemical that Plaintiffs allege was used in the rubber making process.
Various types of heavy-duty construction equipment and agriculture equipment can be the subject of fire litigation. Frost Brown Todd currently serves as national fire counsel for multiple manufacturers, addressing fire claims anywhere in the country. We have significant experience defending product defect claims and exploring alternative causes of the fire, including the alterations of the equipment, the operator’s failure to maintain or clean the equipment, or the occurrence of certain weather conditions which have an impact on equipment. Representative matters include:
Imperial Food Products Fire
Twenty-five food workers, trapped behind pad-locked doors, lost their lives when a fire ripped through the Imperial Food Processing Plant in Hamlett, North Carolina. Aware of the limited assets and insurance available to Imperial, the plaintiffs’ counsel identified every conceivable material that could have been a source of fuel or toxic gasses. While some suits were initially filed in the decedents’ home states of North and South Carolina, a creative consortium of some of America’s best-known plaintiffs’ lawyers filed suit in state court in Beaumont, Texas. Fearing the plaintiff-oriented forum of Beaumont and taking advantage of the bankruptcy of Imperial, defendants removed the case to U.S. District Court in Beaumont, Texas and later were successful in transferring the case to federal court in North Carolina. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately reversed and sent the case back to federal court in Texas, where we ultimately obtained dismissal of the claims against our clients.
The misuse of products, intentionally in a terrorist act or negligently due to modification of a product or contrary to instructions, can lead to devastating consequences. Frost Brown Todd has handled numerous cases involving both terrorist use of products and negligent misuse of products. Representative matters include:
Oklahoma City Bombing
On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh placed a 4,000-pound ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb inside a rental truck and parked it in front of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. When the bomb detonated, 168 individuals were killed in what was then the worst terrorist act in U.S. history. Within three weeks of the explosion, renowned lawyer Johnnie Cochran filed a class action lawsuit seeking incalculable damages from the company that allegedly made the fertilizer. Breaking new ground, we developed a successful defense strategy for this multinational client. Within two years, the case was dismissed, and the dismissal was affirmed on appeal in the Tenth Circuit. See Lena R. Gaines-Tabb v. ICI Explosives, USA, Inc., 160 F. 3d 613 (10th Cir. 1998).
Rhode Island Station Nightclub Fire
At around 11:00 p.m. on February 20, 2003, rock and roll band “Great White” took the stage at an overcrowded West Warwick, Rhode Island nightclub called “The Station.” Great White announced its presence with a pyrotechnic display which immediately ignited building materials and polyurethane packing foam which the club owners had illegally applied to the walls and ceiling of the club in response to neighborhood noise complaints. Within five minutes, fire had consumed much of the club, ultimately claiming 100 lives and injuring scores of other club patrons. Multiple civil lawsuits were filed naming the property owners, the band and its managers, the pyrotechnics manufacturer, city and state officials, sponsors and promoters of the concert, the distributor of the packing foam, and alleged manufacturers of the packing foam. We represented the alleged foam manufacturers who were sued despite the club’s owners misuse of the product.
Structure fires often involve a claim that the electrical system malfunctioned in some way and caused arcing or other electrical phenomena, resulting in a catastrophic fire loss. We have handled numerous fire matters where we defended the electrical system of the structure and determined that an alternative ignition source caused the fire, such as intentional acts of an individual or the malfunction of machinery in the structure. Representative matters include:
Beverly Hills Supper Club Disaster
On May 28, 1977, more than 1,200 patrons were crowded into the Cabaret Room of the Beverly Hills Supper Club enjoying the evening and awaiting a performance by popular singer John Davidson. Unbeknownst to them, a fire broke out in an empty meeting room. Efforts to contain it were unsuccessful, and the fire rapidly spread down the north hallway, entering the Cabaret Room at 9:08 p.m. The exits were inadequate to evacuate the overcrowded room and 167 patrons were killed. Their bodies were stacked five- and six-deep at the exits.
The Supper Club was without adequate insurance or assets to compensate the victims. The class action lawsuits which followed were filed by Stanley Chesley (subsequently proclaimed the “Master of Disaster” by Fortune Magazine). They sought damages from hundreds of defendants who allegedly had some connection with either the electrical system or the furnishings of the club. Many years later, after three trials and numerous appeals, the cases were resolved. But Mass Tort Litigation (MTL), as it is known today, was born. We successfully represented six (6) defendants through three trials.
Frost Brown Todd has also handled numerous cases for premises owners and product manufacturers where the fire was not caused by any act or omission by the premises owner or product manufacturer but was ultimately determined to be the result of arson. Representative matters include:
The Happy Land Social Club Fire
On March 25, 1990, a spurned lover set fire to a dilapidated social club in the Bronx, New York, killing 87 people. Most were immigrants looking forward to a festive Saturday night. The national attention and reporting of this tragic event drew plaintiffs’ lawyers from as far away as Puerto Rico. These lawyers combined with some of the most well-known lawyers in New York City to launch a full-scale attack against more than a dozen product defendants and four dozen other defendants. They were hoping that a Bronx jury would award multi-million-dollar verdicts. Despite the intense publicity and an emotionally charged atmosphere in this plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction, all the claims against our clients were resolved by dismissals, summary judgments, or less-than-cost-of-defense settlements.
Comfort Inn Fire
In the early morning hours of January 25, 2004, a likely arson occurred at a Greenville, South Carolina Comfort Inn. Six guests on the third floor of the hotel died and at least ten others claim fire-related injuries. Multiple lawsuits stemming from the accident were filed in South Carolina state and federal courts, most naming our client, a Comfort Inn franchisor, as one of numerous defendants.
San Juan Dupont Plaza Hotel Fire
The San Juan Dupont Plaza Fire litigation was described at the time as the largest ever, single incident, mass tort case in history. The fire killed 95 guests and injured more than 1,400 hotel patrons, many of whom were evacuated by helicopter from the roof on this high-rise beach hotel. The resulting litigation involved class action suits in several states, which were the subject of an MDL consolidation and, ultimately, a 13-month trial in Federal Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico. More than 100 defendants were sued. We defended a group of more than two dozen defendants and formed one of the first CPR-sponsored Cooperative Defense Groups, encapsulating all the defendants into a centralized defense team, which greatly reduced the costs of defense. These collective efforts resulted in defense verdicts, or less-than-cost-of-defense settlements for our clients.
Frost Brown Todd has litigated many consumer product fires including fires allegedly involving oxygen equipment, televisions, paint solvents, thermostats, battery chargers, computers, hot water heaters, furnaces, ovens, and refrigerators. We have also served as counsel for lithium battery manufacturers and manufactures who have utilized lithium batteries as components in their consumer products. Representative matters include:
B&P Apartments Complex Fire
In the early morning hours of March 11, 2016, an intoxicated resident of a 10-unit, two-story apartment complex ignited a fatal and devastating fire which destroyed the complex and claimed three lives when he lit a cigarette while holding his oxygen cannula. The intoxicated resident was arrested and charged with three counts of manslaughter due to his reckless conduct. He admitted he knew he should not smoke while using oxygen. Numerous lawsuits for wrongful death, personal injury and property loss were filed against several parties, including the supplier of the oxygen equipment, for providing an oxygen concentrator to a smoker who was known to be slovenly and for failure to inspect his apartment for a working smoke detector. We represented the oxygen equipment supplier. The Court granted the oxygen equipment supplier’s motion for summary judgment on numerous theories and specifically referenced the intoxicated resident’s admission that he was told by the equipment supplier not to smoke while using oxygen.
Propane is widely used for heating and cooking. It is also used for power generation. Frost Brown Todd has defended numerous cases involving propane fires/explosions ranging from product manufacturers in residential and commercial settings. Frost Brown Todd is a member of the Propane Gas Defense Association. Representative matters include:
Knox Home Explosion
Frost Brown Todd defended a furnace manufacturer in Powell County, Kentucky. A home explosion (resulting in three deaths) was ultimately caused by a broken pipe leading to the home.
Woodland Home Fire
Frost Brown Todd defended a local utility company in Louisville, Kentucky. The case was related to a residential house fire that occurred in February 2009. Our team obtained voluntary dismissal of wrongful death claims related to the deaths of two minor children.
Construction methods, particularly during renovation projects, can lead to devastating property loss and sometimes personal injuries and death. Frost Brown Todd has handled numerous cases involving construction products and equipment as well as defended contractors. Representative matters include:
One Meridian Plaza Fire
In 1991, the One Meridian Office Tower Plaza, a 38-story high rise tower located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, caught fire allegedly caused by Naphtha-soaked rags. Almost none of the lower stories were equipped with sprinklers. The fire burned out of control for hours until it reached the upper levels, which had sprinklers. The sprinklers installed on the upper-level floors extinguished the fire in a matter of minutes. The overall damage to the building, property and businesses totaled over $1 billion. Numerous suits were filed, principally by the businesses located in the building and the building owner, against nearly 100 defendants who had provided products and services to the building over the years. After extensive litigation, we successfully resolved the numerous pending lawsuits filed against our clients.
Johnny Cash Residence Fire, Hendersonville, Tennessee
$2.8 million in property damage. Contractors used wood sealant indoors despite product label and fire destroyed Johnny Cash’s former home.
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