Above-Ground Gasoline Storage Tank Explosion Case is Settled Before Trial

A BP gas station was having its above-ground storage tank filled with gasoline by a petroleum company and its driver. David Cowles, 61, was the delivery driver for a petroleum company filling the storage tank at the BP gas station when one of the tanks overflowed. The gasoline vapors ignited and a massive explosion erupted. Cowles suffered second and third-degree burns, including severe burns to his arms. He was hospitalized for weeks in a burn unit and required multiple debridement and skin-graft surgical procedures.

Cowles filed a lawsuit against the company that owned the gasoline station, claiming that it had chosen not to use an accurate method for measuring its gasoline inventory. Usually underground gasoline tanks are measured by a long stick inserted in the tank opening to determine the gasoline levels.

During the discovery process of the case, Cowles learned that the gas station calculated its inventory using “net volume” method, which is used in the industry for purchasing gasoline; it is determined by the volume of gas at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Gasoline expands with heat.

At trial, Cowles and his attorney team were prepared to show that the temperature inside the gasoline storage tanks was more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result the volume of the gas inside was much greater than the gas station had calculated. This led to an under-accounting of the fuel by nearly 8,000 gallons. Cowles asserted that the gas station should have calculated inventory using the gross volume method, which is the precise volume of the gasoline depending on the storage tank temperature.

Cowles also alleged that the gas station chose not to have the necessary safety equipment, including stop-flow protection to automatically stop fuel flow when the tank reached 95% capacity. The gas station also did not have an alarm to warn workers when the tank reached 90% capacity. A vapor recovery system that keeps fumes in check was not being used; the oil and gas industry requires such a system for petroleum storage tanks.

The defendant oil company argued that Cowles was comparatively negligent for standing in the wrong place that was too far from the emergency shut off valves and for filling the tanks without confirming in the station’s gauges that there was sufficient capacity for the volume of gas he was pumping in.

Cowles countered that argument by stating that he was standing in the correct place and that all delivery drivers relied on the gas station’s assurances regarding tank capacity. Cowles also maintained that the gas station’s gauges were broken or out of service making it impossible for him to rely on them for verification. The parties settled before the jury trial for a confidential amount.

Cowles v. Coones Oil & Co., No. CA 11-1553 Fla., St. John’s Co. Cir., Sept. 18, 2013.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling work injury cases for individuals and families related to the oil and gas industry who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including River Grove, Blue Island, Hanover Park, Harwood Heights, Alsip, Robbins, Palos Park, Bridgeview, Burr Ridge, Joliet, Geneva, Itasca, Chicago (Stockyards, Lakeview, Andersonville, Albany Park, Garfield Park, Gold Coast, Horner Park, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Jackson Park, Jefferson Park, Little Italy, Printers Row, Wrigleyville), Highland Park, Highwood, Round Lake Beach, Mundelein and Lincolnshire, Ill.

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