Appeals from orders of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Jan. T., 1960, Nos. 24 and 1691, in cases of Michael Celender v. Allegheny County Sanitary Authority et al.; and John Diulus v. Same.
James E. McLaughlin, with him John A. DeMay, for appellants.
Robert S. Grigsby, with him Pringle, Bredin, Thomson, Rhodes & Grigsby, for appellee.
Ervin, P. J., Wright, Watkins, Montgomery, Jacobs, Hoffman, and Spaulding, JJ. Opinion by Montgomery, J.
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Appellants-plaintiffs, employes of Mole Construction Company, were severely burned as the result of an explosion
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in a sewage disposal tunnel being constructed by Mole under a contract with the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority. This tunnel construction included a large underground vault known as U-1, located adjacent to the Ohio River in McKees Rocks, Allegheny County. Plaintiffs sued the Authority alleging negligence in permitting explosive gas to accumulate in the vault and in failing to notify them of its presence. The Authority joined Mole as an additional defendant. In a jury trial the court below granted a non-suit as to both original and additional defendants and later refused to remove it. Plaintiffs appealed.
Plaintiff Michael Celender, employed as a cement mason by Mole, and plaintiff John Diulus, employed as a laborer, reported for work on July 25, 1958, and were sent to a job location several miles away, on the other side of the river from the underground vault U-1. They were unable to work at the site to which they had been assigned this day because of a misunderstanding. They then proceeded in an automobile owned by Celender from that site to consult with their foreman concerning another job assignment, which foreman they expected to find near McKees Rocks. As they passed vault U-1, Celender recalled that he had left a rubbing stone inside that vault a few days before while he was working there. Celender, who was driving, stopped the car and sent Diulus down to look for the stone. Because the vault was dark Diulus could not readily find the stone. Celender then entered the vault and at his request Diulus struck a match. Immediately there was an explosion and flames raced around the chamber. Before they could escape both men were severely burned.
Plaintiffs admitted that on the day of the accident no one knew that they were going to enter this vault, but they and their witnesses stated that a warning was never given them concerning the possibility of igniting
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underground gas by smoking or by the use of open lights and that they had smoked while working therein. They testified, however, that they knew that there was likely to be gas in the tunnels and that they also knew that there were large gasoline and oil tanks located nearby.
The Authority was created to provide for the construction of a sewage system in Allegheny County which would treat and dispose of sewage rather than permit its drainage into the rivers in the area. The treatment plant was constructed on the north bank of the Ohio River near the McKees Rocks Bridge across from vault U-1. Various pipe lines conducted the flow of sewage to the plant after intercepting it at the river outlets of various existing sewers. At these interception points underground vaults including U-1 were constructed to provide access by workmen to the junctions. Numerous contractors participated in the project but U-1 vault was part of the contract (No. 28) awarded to Mole. At the time of the explosion this vault was 80 per cent complete but no work was being done on it at the time of the explosion. Vault U-1 was constructed on property ...