Lightning strike energizes steel piping under home, causing fire

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Case in Point

November 9, 2010

Lightning strike energizes steel piping under home, causing fire 

The plaintiffs sued the piping manufacturer, alleging that the product was too thin to be used in home construction where foreseeable events such as lightning storms are prevalent. The jury awarded about $958,900. Tincher v. Omegaflex, Inc.

Terence and Judith Tincher purchased a home that was plumbed with TracPipe flexible gas supply lines. The lines were constructed of corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST), a form of piping with thin, flexible walls that is sold as an alternative to traditional black iron piping.

During a thunderstorm, a lightning strike energized the line beneath the first floor of the house. The resulting electrical arc created a hole in the piping, igniting natural gas. A large fire erupted, causing a structural collapse in the center of the home. The house and its contents were a total loss. Rebuilding and replacement costs were estimated at about $958,900.

The Tinchers sued Omegaflex, Inc., the manufacturer of the piping, alleging it was too thin to be used in home construction where foreseeable events such as lightning storms are prevalent. The plaintiffs also contended that the defendant failed to test its product to determine its ability to withstand the energy from an indirect lightning strike.

The defendant denied that the piping was defective and argued that it complied with the National Electrical Code and the National Fuel Gas Code. The defense also argued that the failure rate of the piping is comparable to that of black iron piping. In response, the plaintiffs' expert testified that when CSST is exposed to the energy in indirect lightning, it is 1 million times more likely than black iron piping to cause a fire.

The jury awarded about $958,900.

Citation: Tincher v. Omegaflex, Inc., No. 2008-00974-CA (Pa., Chester Co. Com. Pleas Oct. 20, 2010).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Mark E. Utke, Philadelphia.

Plaintiff experts: Mike Murphy, fire cause and origin, Philadelphia; Thomas Eagar, metallurgy/arc physics, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Mark Goodson, electrical engineering, Dallas.

Defense experts: David Smith, fire cause and origin, Atlanta; Michael Stringfellow, lightning, Phoenix; and James Dydo, metallurgy/design engineering, Columbus, Ohio.


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