NBC10 - Ted Greenberg
James and Evelyn McCarty of Lower Township sues two local companies following an explosion at their Cape May County home.
About six weeks after an explosion leveled their South Jersey home, a couple severely burned is suing the contractor they believe is responsible for the blast.
James and Evelyn McCarty filed suit Wednesday morning in Cape May County against a propane gas company, contractor and five individuals they say failed to remove the propane tank from their property months before the explosion.
The McCarty's home along the 200 block of East Atlantic Avenue in The Villas, N.J. was leveled in the blast just before 4 p.m. on Nov. 7. The explosion was so strong, it was felt more than a mile away.
The couple, both 67, were inside the home when the gas ignited and suffered critical injuries in the explosion -- McCarty suffered severe burns while his wife suffered two broken legs and severe burns.
Cape May County Fire Marshal Connie Johnson told NBC10 that investigators were confident that a gas leak sparked the blast, but they are still honing in on the type of fuel involved.
"The strong indication is that this was a propane leak," he said after the blast. "We are confident that the incident was not caused by natural gas or the natural gas system."
According to Kline & Specter, the problem began in April 2013 when the McCartys decided to switch from propane to natural gas. In June, the McCartys hired contractor Shore Guys Heating and Air Conditioning, LLC, of Rio Grande, N.J. at the suggestion of Cape May Court House-based South Jersey Fuel & Propane to perform the transition.
The lawsuit alleges negligence against Shore Guys claiming that workers cut the propane pipes under the home and turned off the tank but never locked the tank and didn’t remove the tank from the property.
"They left the situation with a hazard beneath the McCarty's house that they couldn't possibly see or know about," said Shanin Specter, a lawyer for the McCarty's
Kline & Specter said that the McCarty’s had a neighbor help them turn on their gas fireplace the day before the blast. The neighbor noticed the valve was closed and opened it up, unknowingly sending propane gas into the severed pipes – gathering under the house.
On Nov. 7 as McCarty turned on his shower igniting the hot water heater, the propane gas below the home ignited, according to the lawsuit.
"This tragedy was unavoidable. Today, the McCarty's take the first steps toward righting the wrong," Specter said.
Neighbors rushed to the home in the moments after the blast and several people helped carry Evelyn from the rubble to an ambulance that was arriving on the scene. James was later pulled out and put into a wheelchair before being rushed to the hospital.
Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the state fire marshal unit, Lower Township Police, Cape May County Prosecutor's Office and others were involved in the investigation.
The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages for pain and suffering; mental anguish, medical expenses, humiliation, property damage, etc.