The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is reportedly looking into the oversight of a father-son team that was conducting the hazardous operation of moving a gas meter at a Minneapolis school earlier this month when a natural gas explosion caused part of the building to collapse, killing two people. The blast occurred at Minnehaha Academy, a private Christian school in Minneapolis, on August 3rd, just several weeks before school was due to start back. The two victims of the explosion are Ruth Berg, a receptionist who had worked at the school for 17 years, and John Carlson, a part-time custodian and alumnus of the school.

The explosion occurred at about 10:30 AM when contractors working on the building frantically warned of a gas leak. The subsequent explosion collapsed walls, buckled floors, ignited fires, and knocked people off their feet outside the building. Emergency responders and school employees fought fires and climbed through debris to bring people to safety. About eight people were rescued from the building in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, but two remained missing. Berg’s body was found early in the afternoon, and Carlson’s body was found six hours later, both in the rubble near an exterior door.

City records show that the father-son duo that the NTSB is investigating were working for contractor Master Mechanical, which was issued a permit on June 7th for “gas piping and hooking up meter” at the school’s address. The contractor was hired to move a gas meter from inside the school building to outside the school as part of gas company CenterPoint Energy’s plan to move meters outside for easier access. Master Mechanical has been cited twice for workplace violations in recent years, including a violation related to failing to protect an employee from falling in 2010 and a paperwork violation in 2014.

The general rule of premises liability for landowners is that landowners owe visitors to their property a duty to keep them safe from unreasonable risks of injury. This rule does not only apply to landowners, however; it also applies to occupiers (namely tenants) of real property. So what happens if someone is injured in an apartment building, where there are two potentially responsible parties–the landlord and the tenant? § 44-7-14 of the Georgia Code spells out when the landlord is responsible and when the tenant is responsible:

Having fully parted with possession and the right of possession, the landlord is not responsible to third persons for damages resulting from the negligence or illegal use of the premises by the tenant; provided, however, the landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair.

In light of O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14, the question of liability turns on the issues of where in the building the accident occurred and whether the tenant was aware of the danger. In most cases, landlords are liable only for injuries that occur in the common areas of their buildings or that are the result of hidden defects in occupied dwelling units.

A teenage boy’s parents are filing a products liability suit against Amazon after they allege that the company sold a samurai sword that was unreasonably dangerous. Sixteen-year-old Tristan Ballinger and his friend J.K. were taking turns throwing a plastic water bottle into the air while the other boy tried to chop the bottle in half with the sword. At some point when J.K. was swinging the sword, the steel blade dislodged from the handle, sending the blade flying about 20 feet through the air and effectively impaling Ballinger in the forehead. Ballinger suffered a serious traumatic brain injury and spent six weeks in a coma. His doctor stated that his recovery will be a lifelong process and that he will need extensive physical and speech therapy for many years.

The samurai sword was given to a Ballinger by his aunt, Mindy Ballinger, who, in turn, had obtained it from her supervisor as an award at a work-related employee banquet. Rich Timpone, Mindy Ballinger’s supervisor, purchased the sword, sold as the “Anime Reino de Rasos Charlotte Cuulhourne Sword,” from Amazon for $19.95 in 2012. The sword was made by Georgia-based Top Swords and was modeled after a sword wielded by a popular anime character. It had a blade length of 27 inches, a rose pattern case metal guard, and a purple nylon-wrapped handle. The sword came with no safety instructions or warnings, and the blade did not extend the full length of the grip but was held in place with rubber cement only seven centimeters into the handle.

The defendants in the suit are named as Amazon and unknown defendants who were acting as agents, employees, subsidiaries, and affiliates of Amazon. The basis of the Ballingers’s complaint is that they allege that Amazon should have known that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous to users. The complaint alleges that Amazon’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injuries to Tristan Ballinger. The sword is no longer available for purchase on either Amazon or Top Sword’s websites.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found last month that the death toll in the 2015 Metro-North Valhalla crash was exacerbated by the design of the railroad’s electrified third rail.  On the evening of February 3, 2015, a Metro-North railroad train was passing through Westchester County, New York when it slammed into an SUV on the tracks at a crossing, creating a fiery crash and explosion that killed six people, injured a dozen, and forced the evacuation of hundreds more. The incident was the deadliest crash in the railroad’s history. After over two years of investigations, the NTSB  has placed the primary responsibility for the crash on the driver of the SUV, but also found that the design of the railroad’s electrified third rail exacerbated the death toll and caused the resulting fire.

When the northbound Metro-North train struck the SUV, the collision created unusual violence as long lengths of a third rail running parallel to the train were lifted upward by the crumpled vehicle and flung one after another into the rail cars. Eleven sections of the third rail measuring a total of 343 feet penetrated the train, reaching as far as the second car and crushing passengers. The NTSB concluded that it was this third rail that caused the train to catch fire.

The third rail on a set of railroad tracks sits to the side of the main rails and carries power to the electric locomotives of the trains passing over it. Metro-North’s third rail design is unique from every other railroad system using a third rail in that it connects to the train via a device that runs along the bottom of the rail. As a result, when the third rail ends at an intersection, it curves slightly upward so that the train’s connectors can easily make contact again. When the train at issue struck the SUV, the steel bars of the third rail entered the vehicle and were guided upward until they entered the first car of the train.

Over the past several decades, one could be forgiven for assuming that tobacco usage was on its way out, as the number of users in the United States has been in decline for quite some time. While this may be the case for traditional tobacco products, a brand new category has recently emerged on the scene: electronic cigarettes. Alternately known as “e-cigs” and “vapes,” these devices vaporize liquid containing nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals for the user to inhale. Although electronic cigarettes are generally considered to be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, there have been incidents of them exploding and causing fire and injury, which has led to several lawsuits.

Benefits over Traditional Cigarettes

The general consensus in the medical and regulatory community is that electronic cigarettes are not completely without risk, but they are much healthier than traditional cigarettes. In 2015, the United Kingdom’s Public Health England published a study that found e-cigarettes may be 95% less dangerous to human health than smoking tobacco. The UK’s Royal College of Physicians subsequently recommended that e-cigarettes be used specifically as smoking cessation devices.Another study by University College London found that e-cigarettes are “far safer and less toxic than smoking conventional tobacco cigarettes.” The study examined toxin levels in saliva and urine from smokers and e-cigarette users. Smokers who had switched to e-cigarettes reportedly exhibited “significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens compared to people who continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes.” While the amount of toxic chemicals in electronic cigarettes is lower than traditional cigarettes, they are still present. A 2014 study found that nearly 75 percent of 159 e-liquid samples contained concentrations of diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, both chemicals that have been associated, when inhaled, with respiratory diseases.

A Chipotle restaurant in Loudon County, Virginia temporarily closed its doors on July 17 due to multiple reports that several of its customers had become severely ill after eating there. The closure sent the company’s stock price down more than six percent. The reports stated that the customers experienced repeated symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and fever. Several of the afflicted customers claim that they were diagnosed with norovirus when they visited their doctors. This latest norovirus outbreak has renewed food safety concerns tied to Chipotle, as the company suffered a similar rash of food poisoning events nationwide in 2015.

Norovirus Symptoms and Prevalence

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness from contaminated food in the United States, with about 50% of all food-borne illness being caused by norovirus. Foods that are commonly involved in outbreaks of the illness are leafy greens, fresh fruits, and shellfish, but any food that is served raw or handled after being cooked can be contaminated. The virus can easily contaminate food because it is very tiny and infective. It only takes a very small amount of virus particles (as few as 18) to make someone sick. Food can get contaminated with norovirus several ways, including when:

This summer, a mother was alarmed when her infant child suffered from heatstroke while sitting on a plane that was stuck on the tarmac at Denver International Airport. Emily France and her four-month old son, Owen, sweated it out aboard what she described as an “oven with wings” for more than an hour in June of 2017 before the plane returned to the gate and passengers were briefly allowed off. When they returned to the plane, France said that the cabin felt even warmer than before, so she stripped off her child’s clothing and asked the flight attendants to bring her ice bags to try and cool him down. She then claims that her son turned a color she had never seen before and went limp in her arms. The child was taken away by an ambulance, but doctors determined that he suffered no long-term effects.

Ms. France’s ordeal is not uncommon, as airlines have struggled with overheated airplane cabins for quite some time. In the summer of 2013, several passengers on a delayed Allegiant Air flight became ill as the plane sat on the tarmac in the desert heat of Las Vegas. Also in 2013, more than 150 Allegiant Air passengers were forced to remain in an airplane on the runway for 2 1/2 hours in Phoenix after a maintenance problem knocked out air conditioning on the plane. After this incident, Allegiant spent more than $1 million on six, 60-ton cooling units for use at the Las Vegas airport, in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the Phoenix fiasco.

These problems arguably stem from the fact that each airline sets its own guidelines for internal cabin temperature, with no formal guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Some airlines allow internal temperatures of up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which, to the average person, is swelteringly hot. The issues also stem from the practice of pilots turning off the air conditioning to save fuel when a plane is at the gate or taxiing. Other times, the outside air temperature is so warm (for example, in places like Las Vegas and Phoenix), that the airplane’s air conditioning cannot keep up.

ExxonMobil Corp. has been fined $165,000 by federal regulators for safety violations over an explosion that occurred in 2016 at a large oil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The  United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a total of nine citations, including citations for inadequate training and equipment maintenance at the aging facility. Exxon has stated that it is contesting OSHA’s most recent findings and the fines the agency imposed.

The facility in question is an alkylation unit that makes octane-boosting components for gasoline. The explosion occurred on November 22, 2016, when a worker removed the cover of a malfunctioning valve on an isobutane line and used a wrench to turn the valve system. As the operator turned the valve system, portions of the valve fell out, releasing isobutane and igniting a welding machine 70 feet away. As a result of the explosion, one worker was knocked off a scaffold and left dangling over the fire, while another worker was burned over most of her body. In total, four workers were injured, two of them severely.

This is not the first time the Baton Rouge facility has drawn the federal government’s ire; he facility was faulted five years ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to address corrosion on pipes and valves and for inadequate shutdown and emergency procedures provided to workers.In 2012, the EPA inspected the Baton Rouge refinery as part of a risk management prevention program and found Exxon had not examined more than 1,000 underground pipes in five years, many of which were corroded, according to the agency’s report on the inspection. The EPA also found that emergency and shutdown procedures failed to provide needed details for operators.According to the latest OSHA citations, Exxon’s safety procedures and training for operators on the alkylation unit were lacking, equipment was not properly maintained, and required safety inspections were not carried out within the required time periods. Eight of the nine citations were listed as “series,” each carrying a fine of $12,675. The ninth fine was for failing to carry out external visual and ultrasonic inspections of piping, and carried a fine of $63,373. The ninth fine was much higher than the fines for the other citations because OSHA cited Exxon in 2016 for violating the same inspection standard at a mother of its refining facilities in Baytown, Texas

Last month, automakers Toyota, BMW, Subaru, and Mazda agreed to pay a total of $553 million to current and former owners and lessees of 15.8 million vehicles that were fitted with airbags manufactured by Takata, the Japanese automotive parts company. The plaintiffs’ class-action lawsuit alleged that Takata airbags are prone to rupture, and have been linked to at least 11 deaths and over 100 injuries in the United States.

The cause of the ruptured airbags is alleged to be their inflation mechanism, which uses a compound called ammonium nitrate that fills the bags in a powerful controlled explosion. When ammonium nitrate is exposed to air or moisture over long periods of time, however, it can become unstable and explode more violently than it is intended, making the airbags particularly dangerous to consumers living in the Southeastern United States and Hawaii.

The defect has prompted the United States’s largest automobile recall ever, affecting almost 70 million airbags in 42 million vehicles.

More than three years after General Motors (GM) recalled 2.5 million of its 2005-2010 Chevy Cobalts, Pontiacs, and Saturns, the company recently lost its bid to prevent an Arizona driver some seeking damages for ignition-switch liability. The plaintiff, Dennis Ward, alleges that he was driving a 2009 Chevy HHR on March 27, 2014, when he rear-ended another driver in Tucson. The reason why he rear-ended the driver, he alleges, is because his vehicle “suddenly and unexpectedly lost power,” thus disabling his brakes and steering.

Faulty Ignition Switches

Beginning in 2001, several models of GM brands were fitted with an ignition switch that was found to be defective, causing cars to suddenly shut off while still in gear. These faulty switches could cause a loss of power steering, disable brakes, and prevent airbags from inflating. In some models, the key could even be removed from the ignition switch when it was not in the “off” position, which could cause the vehicle to roll away. The switches have been linked to at least 124 deaths and nearly 300 injuries. Once GM became aware of the problems associated with these ignition switches, it initiated a recall of about 800,000 vehicles in 2014, which was eventually expanded to over 30 million vehicles once the scale of the problem became apparent.

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