A Maryland appeals court has upheld a decision to rule against a man who filed a lawsuit against Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. after a row home explosion in 2020 caused him to suffer serious injuries, including the amputation of his legs.

Terry James sued BGE for claims including gross negligence after a row home on Labyrinth Road between Brookmill Road and Fairlawn Avenue in Northwest Baltimore exploded, leveling several houses, killing two people and injuring at least seven others on Aug. 10, 2020.

In an eight-page opinion Wednesday, Appellate Judge Dan Friedman wrote for the three-judge panel that people must offer expert testimony to establish what the standard of care is in certain negligence cases. But James’ expert, Dale Cagwin, did not provide such testimony.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill was correct to grant summary judgment in the case, Friedman said, and he properly excluded Cagwin as an expert on the grounds that he was not qualified to testify about the key issues in the case.

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Lawyers for James said they would seek review in the Maryland Supreme Court, calling the case a public safety matter with statewide implications.

“BGE’s defense of ignorance is not a defense under the facts of this case,” said Latoya Francis-Williams, one of James’ attorneys. “To be candid, it’s a travesty that any judge would take this case away from a jury and bury their head in the sand, given BGE’s admissions in deposition.

“The record is clear that BGE knew of the gas emergency hours before the explosion and simply chose to do nothing about it,” she added.

In an email, Talon Sachs, a spokesperson for BGE, said it had “no response to add to the story.”

Robin and Leroy Johnson had hired a company to install an air conditioning unit and furnace at their rental property on Labyrinth Road in Fallstaff, according to the opinion. James lived in the basement.

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Workers shut off a valve that controlled the flow of gas into the house, the opinion states, which records show happened at about 4 p.m. They did not finish the work that day and left without capping the gas line that they’d disconnected.

Later, James smelled a substance that BGE adds to gas so people can detect it. That’s when he called Leroy Johnson, who came by the home later that night, according to the opinion.

Leroy Johnson checked the gas meter. Meanwhile, James lit the burners on the stove, the opinion states.

At about 1:30 a.m., the valve was opened. Data from the meter shows that the gas usage went from zero cubic feet per hour to 476 cubic feet per hour, according to the opinion.

When James went to make breakfast after waking up at about 8 a.m., he turned on the stove, the opinion reads. That’s when an explosion flattened the home and two adjacent houses.

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Lonnie Herriott, 61, and Joseph Graham, 20, were killed in the explosion.

James alleged that BGE had a duty to “implement and maintain a system of inspection that ensures reasonable promptness in the detection of all leaks or excess gas flow” and asserted that the utility company has meters that allow it to “remotely monitor natural gas readings on its units as well as receive real time notifications of elevated gas levels on customer properties.”

Those meters deliver readings to BGE’s billing division every morning at about 7 a.m., according to the company, before the blast that maimed him.

Friedman said the claim of gross negligence hinged on the ability of BGE to analyze and respond to data that shows elevated gas levels. He said it required an understanding of how the utility operates to make an assessment of that capability.

“The average juror cannot be expected to understand those procedures without expert testimony,” Friedman said.

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The Maryland Public Service Commission in 2021 found that BGE complied with all applicable laws and regulations and responded appropriately in the case.

Baltimore Gas and Electric employees work at the scene of an explosion on August 10, 2020 in Baltimore.
In this photo from Aug. 10, 2020, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. employees work at the scene of an explosion on Labyrinth Road in Northwest Baltimore. (Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)

In a recent interview with WJZ-TV, The Baltimore Banner’s media partner, James said he suffered burns on 87% of his body and was given a 10% chance to live.

James said he underwent 22 surgeries. He said he keeps moving forward because of his family.

“The thought of just life being swept away instantly from you in a blink, it’s horrific,” James said. “It’s unexplainable. Words can’t describe it. Emotions can’t describe it.”

dylan.segelbaum@thebaltimorebanner.com

hallie.miller@thebaltimorebanner.com

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