Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Rules in Gas Utility Case

Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Rules in Gas Utility Case

By Lori A. Dawkins and Allison J. Farrell

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals just issued an important decision for all natural gas utilities with operations in West Virginia with its Memorandum Decision No.11-1511 (Harrison County 10C391). In this decision, issued February 11, 2013, the state's highest court affirmed that a natural gas utility had no duty to re-inspect a natural gas appliance after it "red-tagged" the faulty appliance when it restored gas service to the plaintiffs' residence.

In this case, the utility had discontinued gas service at the plaintiffs' residence for non-payment. When it restored service at the residence, it "red-tagged" the plaintiffs' furnace for improper ventilation and isolated the faulty furnace from the gas lines. The plaintiffs then had their furnace repaired and someone other than the utility restored the flow of gas to the furnace. The furnace, which was improperly repaired, then released carbon monoxide into the plaintiffs' home. The plaintiffs sued the utility, among other parties, claiming that the utility was negligent. The court ruled that without expert testimony, the plaintiffs' claims could not survive summary judgment. Moreover, the court upheld the circuit court's ruling that even if the plaintiffs had retained an expert, the issue of whether the utility's "red-tag" policy was safe was beyond the expertise of a jury. 

Lori Dawkins focuses her practice in the area of energy and complex commercial litigation. Allison Farrell focuses her practice in the areas of general litigation and energy litigation.

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