A Sept. 16, 2019, explosion killed a Farmington firefighter, injured six other firefighters and injured Larry Lord, an employee at the LEAP building at 313 Farmington Falls Road in Farmington. Sun Journal file photo

FARMINGTON — Attorneys for those killed and/or injured in the fatal propane explosion at LEAP Inc. last year filed civil lawsuits this week on behalf of them and their families, claiming negligence by CN Brown Co. of South Paris and Techno Metal Post Maine of Manchester.

McKee Law of Augusta is representing the estate of firefighter Capt. Michael Bell and six injured Farmington firefighters. Berman & Simmons of Lewiston is representing Larry Lord and his wife, Sandra, of Jay.

Larry Lord Gofundme photo

Lord is credited with getting employees out of the Life Enrichment Advancing People building at 313 Farmington Falls Road minutes before it blew up Sept. 16, 2019. Lord, who reported a smell of propane, and seven firefighters went into the building to check on the odor and minutes later it exploded.

Bell was killed and Lord was “catastrophically injured” and “suffered devastating burns over 85% of his body and other injuries,” according to his attorneys.

Bell’s brother, Chief Terry Bell, Capt. Scott Baxter and his father, firefighter Theodore Baxter, Capt. Timothy “TD” Hardy, firefighter Joseph Hastings and Deputy Chief S. Clyde Ross were injured, some critically.

Lord received burns and other injuries, requiring hospitalization and critical in-patient rehabilitation for nearly seven months, according to Berman and Simmons’ filing Monday in a Farmington court.

The lawsuit on behalf of Bell’s estate and firefighters was filed Tuesday, also in a Farmington court, by attorney Walter McKee.

Representatives of CN Brown and Techno Metal Post were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Capt. Michael Bell died Sept. 16, 2019, in a propane explosion at the LEAP building in Farmington. Town of Farmington photo

The lawsuits claim the two companies were “directly and vicariously negligent” through their employees.

According to findings of state fire investigators, the explosion was caused after an underground propane line was severed by one of four bollards the Manchester company drilled into the ground near the LEAP building.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal report concluded the propane leaked from the severed line and led to the explosion, according to a statement.

Techno Metal Post was cited by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and fined by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to follow Dig Safe regulations before installing four bollards near the building to protect an air conditioner Sept. 10, 2019. One of those bollards severed an underground propane line, which allowed propane to get into the building, according to the lawsuits.

The Maine Fuel Board fined and suspended the license of a CN Brown propane and natural gas technician for 15 days for not checking for leaks after filling a propane tank at the Life Enrichment Advancing People building, three days before the fatal explosion there.

Upon receiving LEAP’s report that the propane tank was empty and that there was no hot water in the building, the dispatched CN Brown technician simply refilled the tank without first performing a routine pressure leak test as required by law, the lawsuits claim.

“Because of CN Brown’s failure to do the test, the leak went undetected and the building, then filled with propane gas, exploded three days later,” attorneys claim.

“Larry Lord and his devoted wife, Sandy, continue to fight daily against the horrible effects of the injuries he received in this explosion,” according to attorney Steven Silin of Berman & Simmons. “Their greatest wish is that, someday, Larry will be able to return to a fulfilling, healthy life. We brought this lawsuit to help make that possible for him and his family.”

According to the lawsuits, CN Brown’s negligence includes but is not limited to: failure to communicate properly the out-of-gas/out-of-hot water interruptions service to its employee dispatched to the LEAP premises; failure to perform a leak test; and failure to determine the cause of the out-of-gas and out-of water hot water interruption. All are in violation of applicable state and federal safety codes, and industry safety standards.

Techno Metal Post’s negligence includes: failing to take reasonable and readily available measures to determine the presence and location of the buried gas line; failing to notify Dig Safe of its intent to excavate near LEAP’s gas line in compliance with Maine law and regulations; and drilling its bollard into the buried gas line, which resulted in its bollard severing the line and causing a leak that CN Brown failed to discover, according to both suits.

The lawsuits claim the two companies’ actions “was a proximate cause of the explosion.”

Their negligence caused Larry Lord to “suffer severe, painful and permanent physical and emotional injuries and loss of enjoyment of life, loss of earnings and earning capacity, and to incur and to continue incurring medical expenses and effort to treat his grievous injuries,”  and also caused Sandra Lord to suffer the loss of the comfort, society, companionship and consortium of her husband and the loss of his household services, according to Berman & Simmons’ suit.

“The complaint speaks for itself,” attorney McKee said.

As a result of the companies’ negligence, Michael Bell was killed, the lawsuit claims, and Diana Bell, his wife and personal representative of his estate, lost the society, comfort and companionship of her husband. She has suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of the death of Michael Bell, and the estate is further entitled to damages for his lost income and other damages, according to McKee Law.

The six other firefighters injured each suffered damages, including but not limited to pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent impairment and other damages.

They all respectively request the court to enter judgment in their favor against the defendants and award damages, costs and whatever other relief the court deems just and equitable, according to the lawsuit.

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