Baltimore Gas and Electric employees work at the scene of an explosion on August 10, 2020 in Baltimore.

A lawsuit alleging negligence by Baltimore Gas and Electric Company in the lead-up to an explosion that leveled multiple Baltimore rowhomes in August 2020 has been postponed due to courtroom unavailability, attorneys for the plaintiff said Thursday.

The explosion, which left two people dead and at least seven others injured, occurred after an hourslong buildup of natural gas inside a rowhouse on the 4200 block of Labyrinth Road in Northwest Baltimore. A review of the disaster from the Maryland Public Service Commission conducted last year found that the gas leak could have been caused by faulty maintenance work the day before, or may have been due to manual tampering with the gas piping, court records show.

Earlier this year, a judge denied a motion for summary judgment from the utility company and its codefendants. In a memo responding to the motion, Baltimore attorneys A. Dwight Pettit and Latoya Francis-Williams honed in on the company’s knowledge of the high levels of gas in the house a little more than two hours before the blast. The reading, sent to the company’s billing system by 7 a.m., is delivered at or around that time each day, according to the company.

Pettit and Francis-Williams represent Terry James, a tenant who lived in the basement at the Labyrinth Road house and had his lower legs amputated as a result of his injuries. He is seeking $50 million in damages in the gross negligence suit. James is the only plaintiff in the latest filing.

Attorneys say the company is liable for not alerting residents or authorities about the “shockingly high” levels of gas.

An attorney representing BGE did not respond to a request for comment.

In a December deposition, a representative of BGE said the company does not have an obligation to respond to or report findings presented on its billing system; rather, it’s up to customers to take precautions and report gas leaks to BGE and to authorities.

At the same time, the company maintains that it’s responsible for safely “delivering” natural gas to consumers — but that duty ends after installing the meter.

In a June motion to exclude an expert witness — an engineer named Dale Cagwin who also is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist — attorneys for BGE argued that the company cannot reasonably monitor gas consumption in “real time.” This would require BGE “to immediately receive, process, and then respond to 16.8 million data points from approximately 700,000 gas meters per day,” attorneys from McGuireWoods LLP wrote.

On Monday, the judge will hear a motion to exclude BGE’s proposed expert testimony. BGE will also ask the judge to dismiss the gross negligence complaint.

Citing ongoing litigation, Pettit and Francis-Williams said they could not comment on the case. According to court records, they plan to argue that James’ landlord told him not to worry about the faint stench of natural gas in the home. He said he did not call the authorities or alert BGE.

Based on testimony from James, homeowner Leroy Johnson and BGE director of gas engineering Frank Leonhartt, James slept while gas leaked into the home for more than seven hours. He woke up around 9 a.m. to cook breakfast and turned on the stove, which immediately caused the explosion and blew him to the bottom level of the house.

Lonnie Herriot, 61, and Joseph Graham, 20, were found dead in the rubble. Multiple other injuries and utility and property damage occurred as a result of the explosion.

Following the blast, BGE quickly denied responsibility. The company believes it did not have “a responsibility for issues or concerns or release of natural gas from consumer’s equipment on their side of what they own and what they are responsible for,” Leonhartt said in his deposition.

The Public Service Commission’s 2021 investigation found that BGE complied with applicable statutes and regulations and responded to the event appropriately. It did not recommend a civil penalty or corrective action.

James now lives in Charles County. While being deposed, he cried out in pain as he recounted that day: he said he had been “putting [his] life together … grasping and getting to where [he] needed to be” in the weeks and months before the explosion. Then his world fell apart.

“I’m having them sharp pains that are shooting up through my body,” he said in the middle of his testimony. “Gosh, that day. Gosh, gosh, gosh. Please, God, that day.”

According to James’ attorneys, the owners of the Labyrinth Road property hired a company to repair the home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system Aug. 9. They turned off the gas to complete the job but failed to cap the gas line or reconnect it to a furnace, according to court records. Attorneys for the HVAC company, Jimmy Gusky Heating & Air LLC, did not respond to a request for comment.

James testified that he smelled natural gas later that evening, despite the gas being turned off. Johnson came to the house to check on the problem and reassured the tenants that everything was fine, according to James’ testimony.

James helped Johnson dispose of the trash left behind by the HVAC crew around midnight, according to testimony, and he believes Johnson may have tampered with the gas piping and turned it back on before he returned home. Starting around 1:30 a.m. Aug. 10, BGE’s meter for the home recorded “a shocking and abnormally high rate” of gas flowing into the basement: 474 to 478 cubic feet per hour.

Johnson testified that he had warned James not to turn on the gas until the repair job was complete. James had wanted to shower, Johnson said, and he had told him no gas or hot water would be available until at least the following day.

“Evidently somebody cut the gas on. And why would you cut the gas on if you smell gas?” Johnson said during testimony.

James said he had thought about leaving the house the eve of the explosion because the smell of gas made him uncomfortable. He said he alerted Johnson, who checked the gas meter and told him to “stop acting like a chick and all that,” because “everything’s all right.” James said he knew to expect a faint smell of gas in the morning.

Copies of James’ medical records show “abnormal” levels of carbon dioxide in his blood. Another tenant at the home testified that he, too, smelled gas before the explosion, but hadn’t alerted the authorities because Johnson had reassured the group they would likely smell something in the morning.

The trial’s new date was not immediately known.

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