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U.S. Dist. Ct., Boston, Mass.

This was an action brought by the 42-year-old plaintiff auto/body mechanic for severe and permanent injuries sustained in an on- the-job accident which the plaintiff alleged was caused by a defective 14.1 ounce propane cylinder manufactured and filled by the defendant. The plaintiff contended that the propane cylinder was defective in that it was contaminated with methyl acetylene, one of the active ingredients of MAPP gas also produced at the defendant’s plant, as a result of which it exploded during use.

The subject accident occurred on December 8, ________. The plaintiff testified that at the time of the explosion, he was preparing to solder battery cables using a torch assembly attached to the 14.1 ounce propane cylinder manufactured and filled by the defendant.

The plaintiff related that the last thing he remembered prior to the explosion was reaching for the cylinder. There were no eyewitnesses to the explosion, but co-workers who heard a sound which they described to be similar to a grenade explosion, immediately rushed to the plaintiff’s work area where they found the plaintiff lying in a pool of blood and pulseless, having suffered cardio-pulmonary arrest.

The plaintiff had sustained a massive injury to the groin area involving damage to major arteries and veins, thus accounting for the rapid loss of blood. An EMT team was called to the scene, CPR was performed and the plaintiff was stabilized for transport to a local hospital. At the hospital, the plaintiff was transfused with 90 units of blood and an attempt to repair the artery and veins was made. Two days thereafter, the plaintiff was air ambulanced to a Boston hospital where his left leg was amputated above the hip. He remained hospitalized for a total of almost six months, accumulating nearly $________ in medical expenses. The plaintiff was fitted with a prosthesis and had projected future medicals of $________. He has not been able to resume working as a welder since his accident and claimed lost earning capacity in the amount of $________. Total claimed special damages exceeded $1.7 million.

The evidence adduced at trial indicated that the defendant manufactured and filled cylinders with propane gas as well as another liquid gas known as MAPP or methyl acetylene propadiene gas. The fill room, which is approximately equivalent in size to a medium-sized bedroom, contained a fill machine comprised of six heads underneath which cylinders pass on a conveyor belt to be filled with liquid gas. A series of pipes and valves led from outside storage tanks to the fill machine. One of the outside storage tanks contained propane and the other contained MAPP gas.

The last pipe in the series which led directly to the fill machine was 14 feet long. The way the defendant determined which of the two different gases passed through the pipe was by opening p[_ 3 and closing the appropriate valves. The evidence indicated that the defendant filled propane and MAPP gas cylinders during different production cycles. The changeover in shifting from the filling of one type of gas to the other entailed that the appropriate valves be closed and that the residual gas in the pipe be vented off before opening the appropriate valves to allow filling of the other type of gas.

The plaintiff suggested various hypothetical scenarios under which MAPP gas could have been inadvertently introduced into the subject propane cylinder, including that the defendant failed to adequately vent the pipes prior to switching from MAPP gas to propane. In support of this contention, the plaintiff presented expert testimony to the effect that methyl acetylene, one component of MAPP gas, has been shown to interact with copper and form copper acetylides which are unstable and susceptible to exploding. The defendant, with awareness of this potential phenomenon, did not braze its MAPP cylinders with copper as it did with its propane cylinders.

The plaintiff’s expert opined that MAPP gas was permitted to contaminate the propane cylinder used by the plaintiff, as a result of which the methyl acetylene reacted with the copper in the cylinder to form unstable copper acetylides. The unstable copper acetylides allegedly created a mini-explosion which served to ignite the remaining gas and set off the major explosion which seriously and permanently injured the plaintiff.

The defendant agreed that the cylinder must have been contaminated with a foreign gas at the time of the explosion, but disputed the plaintiff’s claim that MAPP gas was the contaminant.

The defendant contended that the tank was contaminated with oxygen which the plaintiff or another co-worker had added to the cylinder to achieve a usable flame through the torch. The defendant offered evidence that there were tanks of oxygen kept at the auto body shop where the accident occurred and that the plaintiff was observed coming from the area of the shop where the oxygen tanks were located, carrying the cylinder immediately prior to the explosion. The evidence further indicated that the orifice in the torch assembly, which draws necessary oxygen into the torch nozzle to allow propane and oxygen to mix so as to permit a usable flame, was missing from the torch. The defendant theorized that since the orifice in the torch assembly was missing, the plaintiff was required to "pre- mix" the oxygen and propane in the cylinder to get a usable flame. The defendant contended that after adding oxygen to the tank, the plaintiff lit the torch and a flashback occurred, causing the explosion in which he was injured. Although the plaintiff could not remember the accident, both he and his fellow workers specifically denied ever introducing oxygen or any other gas into the subject cylinder.

Specifically refuting the plaintiff’s claim that methyl acetylene was the contaminant which caused the explosion, the defendant’s expert noted that there was no carbon or soot found inside the cylinder or in the area of the wound and maintained that soot is an expected by-product of methyl acetylene decomposition, which should have been found in abundance if the plaintiff’s theory were correct.

Additionally, the defendant’s expert noted that there was p 7 3 evidence of oxidation inside the ruptured cylinder consistent with the defense claim that oxygen had been present in the cylinder at the time of the explosion.

The defendant called plant personnel as well as an independent process engineer to counter the expert testimony offered by the plaintiff regarding the quality of the defendant’s filling operation. This expert maintained that the defendant’s system was safe and adequate, and included safeguards, such as disposal of the first 24 cylinders after changeover which eliminated any reasonable possibility of cross-contamination. The defendant additionally offered evidence that the subject cylinder was filled several weeks after the last changeover from MAPP gas to propane and that more than ________ propane cylinders were filled since the last changeover. This evidence, the defendant argued, further supported the defendant’s claim that the cylinder could not have been contaminated with MAPP gas since any residual MAPP gas in the system would have gone into the first few propane cylinders filled after changeover.

The defendant offered $1.5 million to settle the case and this offer was rejected by the plaintiff. The jury found for the defendant, specifically finding that the plaintiff had failed to prove that the cause of the explosion was contamination of the cylinder at the defendant’s plant. Plaintiff’s expert chemist: Robert Tedeschi from Maine. Plaintiff’s expert process engineer: Phillip Dalton from Fla. Plaintiff’s expert chemical engineer: Peter Townsend from N.J. Plaintiff’s expert combustion engineer: Herman Krier from the Univ. of Ill. Defendant’s expert combustion engineer: Ali Reza from Failure Analysis in Menlo Park, Ca.

Defendant’s expert chemical engineer: Harvey Cohen from Boston.

Defendant’s expert metallurgist: Stuart Brown from MIT.

Defendant’s expert process engineer: David Owen from Langhorne, Pa. Pekka Hatara vs. Cooper Industries, et al. Case no. 90-________- MA; United States Magistrate Marianne B. Bowler, 8-11-92.

Attorney for defendant: David A. Barry, Peter L. Puciloski, and Paul E. White of Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen in Boston.

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