A gas company owes that degree of care necessary under the circumstances in repairing or in examining the condition of a heating system. It is bound to exercise such care, skill and diligence in all its operations, and in the transaction of all its business. All precautions of safety must be taken within the bounds of reason in repairing and caring for gas appliances[i].
There is a strict duty on a gas company which is engaged in the business of furnishing natural gas to consumers, to exercise great care that appliances used by its consumers are proper ones to handle the dangerous substance avoiding dangerous situations to the consumer as possible. However, as a general rule, a gas company which does not install or maintain gas lines in its customer’s premises and is not responsible for their maintenance will not be liable for injuries caused by leaks in the lines of which it has no knowledge[ii].
Under certain circumstances, a gas company may have a duty to inspect the gas lines and/or refuse to supply gas through unsafe lines. However, once the gas is turned on, the gas company has no duty to inspect the customer’s gas lines absent notice of a leak in those lines. But before turning the gas on, the gas company must make sure the gas lines are safe[iii].
If a gas company has knowledge that gas is escaping in a building occupied by one of its consumers, it becomes the duty of the gas company to shut off the gas supply until the necessary repairs have been made although the defective pipe or apparatus does not belong to the company and is not in its charge or custody[iv].
It was observed in Salazar v. S. Cal. Gas Co., 54 Cal. App. 4th 1370 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1997) that like natural gas or electricity, butane gas is an inherently and highly dangerous commodity. In view of the inherently dangerous nature of this commodity a high degree of care is required in handling it. However, this high degree of care does not place on a gas company an unlimited duty of care.
If a gas company knows that the service line, which it is under no duty to repair or maintain, is rusted and corroded to such an extent as to permit gas to escape must cause the line to be repaired by the person whose duty it is to do so or must shut off the gas at the street.
Generally, if gas lines and appliances are installed on a private property, in the absence of notice of a leaky or defective condition, the supplier of gas is under no duty to inspect such lines and appliances and to keep them in repair, in the absence of a contract to do so[v]. If a gas company does not install the gas fixtures in a customer’s building and does not own them and has no control over them, then they are not responsible for their condition or for their maintenance[vi]. There is a presumption that a customer’s private lines and appliances are in good repair, absent notice to the contrary[vii].
Whereas, if a gas company undertakes to convert appliances for the use of natural gas instead of artificial gas, it is under a duty to use reasonable or proper care to make the appliances safe for the contemplated use. A gas provider can be subject to liability if s/he fails to prevent flammable vapors from being ignited by a gas-fired appliance only where the provider has knowledge that flammable vapors actually are being, or will be, stored near the appliance.
In order to establish a negligence duty based on an undertaking to provide gas service, there must be evidence of[viii]:
- an undertaking by a defendant to render services to the plaintiffs which defendant must have recognized as necessary for their protection; and
- either that defendant’s negligence increased the risk of harm to the plaintiffs; or their harm was suffered because of their reliance on the undertaking.
[i] Washington Gas Light Co. v. Connolly, 214 F.2d 254 (D.C. Cir. 1954).
[ii] Salazar v. S. Cal. Gas Co., 54 Cal. App. 4th 1370 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1997).
[iv] Turner v. Northern Ill. Gas Co., 930 N.E.2dF 418 (Ill. App. Ct. 2d Dist. 2010).
[v] Lindsay v. Public Service Co., 1991 U.S. App. LEXIS 2093 (4th Cir. N.C. Feb. 13, 1991).
[vii] Garrison v. Farmers Coop. Exch., 2000 Minn. App. LEXIS 1145 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2000).
[viii] Entex v. Gonzalez, 94 S.W.3d 1 (Tex. App. Houston 14th Dist. 2002).