Fires and explosions occurring in underground vaults may cause serious or fatal injuries. Underground vaults exist throughout Chicago and other cities across the U.S. to house infrastructure elements such as natural gas pipes, water valves, fiber optic cables, phone communication wires, electrical cables, and other such equipment. When underground vault accidents occur, it may lead to significant property damage, as well as serious injuries or death for workers, drivers, pedestrians, and others. The concentration of the flames or blast may stay in the vault itself or get forced out through rain gutters, sewers, worker access points, and other such nooks and crannies.
Common Underground Vault Accident-Related Injuries
People may suffer a variety of injuries, ranging from minor to catastrophic or deadly, due to underground vault accidents. Flames from a fire or the initial blast from an explosion may cause burns, as well as blast injuries and crushing injuries, which may result in external or internal trauma. People may also suffer broken bones, cuts, and abrasions, or bumps and bruises as a result of getting hit by debris or getting thrown from a blast. Getting thrown may also result in people suffering sprains or strains, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and other such trauma. Inhaling the smoke, dust, or toxic gasses from underground fires or explosions may cause eye, throat, or lung irritation. In some cases, people may suffer lung damage or develop other medical conditions as a result of inhaling smoke, dust, or other substances released due to underground fires and explosions.
Depending on the type and severity of their injuries, those involved in underground vault fires or explosions may need immediate, as well as ongoing, medical treatment and care. For instance, this may include follow-up doctor’s visits, diagnostic imaging, and testing, surgery, skin grafts, or rehabilitation.
Causes of Underground Vault Fires and Explosions
Several factors may contribute to the occurrence of underground vault fires and explosions. Sparks from properly functioning or faulty equipment, such as electrical switches, may ignite or set off other electrical sparks, which may lead to fires or explosions. Other underground vault accidents occur due to the build-up of leaked or naturally occurring gasses. Over time, gasses may build up in or near underground vaults. Often high-pressured, such gasses must eventually get expelled when built up in spaces. If vaults lack adequate ventilation or if the ventilation is not functioning correctly and the gasses cannot escape, then they may ignite or cause an explosive force.
Some of the factors that cause underground vault fires and explosions cannot be avoided. Others, however, are preventable if these types of facilities receive appropriate maintenance. For instance, regularly checking pipes for leaks and immediately repairing any found, checking all cables and connectors and replacing any showing too much wear, and ensuring all safety mechanisms and features within the vault are working may help catch hazards before they become accidents with potentially serious or fatal consequences.
Legal Action for Underground Vault Accident Injuries and Deaths
If people suffer injuries in underground vault fires or explosions, they may file personal injury claims against the parties responsible for maintaining the vaults. The state set a statute of limitations for these types of claims. As such, underground vault accident victims must initiate such claims within two years of their accident date. They may recover compensation for their injury-associated losses, including medical expenses, the costs of any future medical care, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Currently, the state does not limit the damages that plaintiffs in personal injury claims involving matters such as underground vault fires and explosions may receive.
In the event victims die as a result of their injuries, personal representatives may file wrongful death actions on their behalf. The personal representatives in such cases may be a family member, such as a spouse, adult child, or parent. Plaintiffs in wrongful death claims may receive compensation for their direct economic losses, current and future, and the funerary costs. The court may also award damages for loss of society, which includes the loss of companionship and affection, as well as for the next of kin’s mental pain and suffering.
Liability for Underground Vault Accident Injuries
The financial responsibility for damages resulting from vault accidents may rest with the public agencies or private companies that own or bear responsibility for the areas. The public agencies or private companies in such cases have a duty of care to perform regular maintenance on underground vaults to help avoid potential public hazards. They also have a responsibility to keep unauthorized people from entering such facilities. Should the public agencies or private companies charged with maintaining underground vaults neglect to uphold this duty, they may bear liability for the consequences.