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FORE v. UNITED NATURAL GAS COMPANY (01/09/70)

decided: January 9, 1970.

FORE
v.
UNITED NATURAL GAS COMPANY, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Mercer County, June T., 1967, No. 108, in case of John B. Fore et ux. v. United Natural Gas Company.

COUNSEL

John F. Potter, with him MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton, for appellant.

Cyril T. Garvey, with him Evans and Garvey, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Chief Justice Bell and Mr. Justice Pomeroy concur in the result.

Author: Eagen

[ 436 Pa. Page 500]

On January 27, 1967, a one-story, brick house in Farrell, Pennsylvania, owned by John B. Fore and his wife, Idell, was destroyed by a gas explosion and fire. Alleging that the negligence of an employee of the United Natural Gas Company (Gas Company) was a proximate cause of the explosion, the Fores instituted this action seeking damages. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. Following the denial of motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial, and the entry of judgment on the verdict, the defendant Gas Company appealed. We affirm.

From the evidence, the jury was warranted in finding the following facts:

Two days before the explosion, an employee of the defendant Gas Company came to the Fore house in the course of his employment to read the meter. Upon entering the building, he detected an odor of gas which caused him to check for leaks in the vicinity of three gas appliances located in the house. Admittedly, he did not check all the gas lines in the house for leaks. The employee then informed Mr. Fore that he found two leaks; one in the gas water heater connection, and another in the gas furnace connection, both of which should be repaired without delay. Mr. Fore said that he would make the necessary repairs. The defendant's

[ 436 Pa. Page 501]

    employee then turned off the supply of gas into the house at the meter, but did not turn it off at the curb line. Later, he filed a routine report with his employer which noted that he had discovered a gas leak in the Fore house at the water heater connection, but failed to mention that he had also found a second leak at the gas furnace connection.

Mr. Fore and his son promptly repaired the two leaks called to their attention by the defendant's employee, as before related. They then turned the gas supply into the house back on and tested the couplings they had repaired for leaks by holding a lighted match in the area. No further leaks were evident. Mr. Fore and his son then returned to their residence at another address. Two hours later, the son returned to the house involved to light the furnace and the hot water tank. Shortly thereafter, the explosion occurred. The source of the gas which caused the explosion was a leak in a pipeline in the house which the defendant's employee had failed to discover or call to the Fores' attention. The safe practice standards published by the American Gas Association and accepted generally in the gas distribution industry suggest, inter alia, that if a gas leak is discovered by a gas company, it should "make sure that all possible sources of escaping gas have been located."

In this appeal, the defendant does not maintain that the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain the verdict. It does, however, contend that certain trial errors require the grant of a new trial. We conclude that these assignments of error are without merit and that only one needs discussion.

The defendant's basic contention is that the trial court erred in its charge to the jury concerning the duty of the gas company under the circumstances. In relevant part the court said: "Once the company, ...


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