Mahowald v. Minn. Gas Co.

344 N.W.2d 856 (Minn. 1984)



In the ordinary course of events, natural gas does not escape from gas mains in public streets so as to cause explosion. When it does so escape and does result in an explosion, an inference of fault on the part of the gas distribution company is justifiable. Even though the gas company may be faultless, in view of its superior knowledge of the gas distribution system, its access and opportunity to identify persons acting in the vicinity of the gas mains, its inspection and control over the mains, and its responsibility for the safety of the persons and property in the community, the gas company should have the obligation to show it was not negligent or to establish who was.


Plaintiff homeowners' house exploded as a result of a natural gas leak. Plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, all of whom were dismissed except defendants, gas company and contractor. The jury awarded damages, but found no negligence on the part of either defendant. Plaintiff argued that the trial court erroneously refused to impose strict liability and failed to give a res ipsa loquitur instruction.


Did the trial court err in refusing to give a res ipsa loquitur instruction in plaintiff homeowners' suit, which arose from an explosion as a result of a natural gas leak?




The court concluded that the trial court properly refused to instruct the jury that defendant gas company was strictly liable for the damages resulting from the escape of gas from its lines located in the public street. The court agreed with plaintiff that the trial court erred in refusing to give a res ipsa loquitur instruction and stated that if plaintiff had the advantage of the instruction, the jury could have concluded that plaintiff met their burden of proof.

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