A gas company should install pipes and fittings of good material and workmanship with skill and care and must inspect its pipes and promptly repair them when they become unsound[i].
If a gas company has notice of defects in pipes that are dangerous to human health and safety, it has a duty to repair the defects or shut off the gas until repairs are made[ii]. A gas company may be held liable for the negligence of its employees while searching for or repairing breaks in its mains, or in making repairs in a negligent manner.
The general rule is that a gas supplier may be held liable for defective conditions inside a user’s premises only where the gas supplier was negligent in repairing or modifying the system within the premises of the end user.
The gas company has the right to assume that the customer’s interior system of pipes and fittings is sufficiently secure to permit the gas to be introduced with safety[iii]. The common law rule of no duty of a gas company with respect to a consumer’s pipes or fittings is premised on the gas company’s lack of knowledge or notice of a gas leak.
While a gas company can be held to have a duty to keep the pipe in which its gas is stored in good condition, it cannot be required to make an inspection of the premises to determine whether they are being kept in safe condition without any knowledge that they may be a source of danger[iv].
The improper placement of a service pipe or line may constitute an act of negligence on the part of a gas company. When a gas company has placed its main too close to the surface of the ground, resulting in a break and consequent flow of gas to the plaintiff’s detriment, the company is liable for its negligence.
In an action against a gas company for damages to a building caused by an explosion due to escaping gas from a broken pipe, the evidence was sufficient to justify a verdict for the plaintiff, where it appears that the company had laid a gas pipe three to six inches under the surface of an alley, in violation of an ordinance[v].
A mere possibility that the harm might have happened even if the defendant had not been guilty of his/her nonfeasance is not sufficient to sever the causal connection between his/her culpable failure to act and the consequences. It must be a practical certainty that such consequences would have ensued anyway[vi].
To the extent that a gas company has knowledge that certain materials are not safe or intended for use in particular installations, their use may constitute negligence so as to render the gas provider liable for damages from injury resulting proximately therefrom. Negligence in installation may also result from the failure to follow company practice in the installation of particular pipes or mains.
[i] Shaw v. Wisconsin Power & Light Co., 256 Wis. 176 (Wis. 1949).
[ii] Foster v. City of Keyser, 202 W. Va. 1 (W. Va. 1997).
[iii] Adams v. N. Ill. Gas Co., 211 Ill. 2d 32 (Ill. 2004).
[iv] Shaw v. Wisconsin Power & Light Co., 256 Wis. 176 (Wis. 1949).
[v] Richey & Gilbert Co. v. Northwestern Natural Gas Corp., 16 Wn.2d 631 (Wash. 1943).
[vi] Phelps v. Woodward Constr. Co., 66 Wyo. 33, 49-50 (Wyo. 1949).