On 10 November 2021, the Magistrates Court of Petah Tiqva (Judge Oshrit Rotkopf) dismissed a claim filed by Alon Alalouf (the plaintiff) against the gas company Supergas Israel Gas Distribution Ltd after a gas explosion at a residential complex.(1) The claim also implicated the owner of the complex and the insurance company that covered it. The Court, however, did not believe that these parties were liable for the incident.
On 4 March 2015, a gas explosion followed by a fire occurred at an apartment located in a residential complex in the Sha'ar Yeshuv township.
As a result of the event, a tenant living in the apartment where the explosion took place, died from his injuries several weeks later. Property damage was caused both to the deceased and to plaintiff's apartment.
In February 2017, the plaintiff filed a statement of claim with the Magistrates Court of Petah Tiqva, arguing that the gas company is liable for the explosion and fire, as a result of which he sustained mental disability and property damage.
According to the statement of claim, on the morning of the event, the plaintiff smelled a strong gas odour in his bathroom. He left his apartment but was unable to find the source of the odour.
Shortly after the plaintiff returned to his apartment, an explosion occurred. The plaintiff then heard his neighbour, the deceased, calling for help. The plaintiff went to the deceased's apartment in order to assist in his rescue, while both of the residential units were on fire.
The plaintiff argued that Supergas provided the gas services for the residential complex, including the apartment of the deceased, where the explosion occurred. Therefore, the plaintiff argued that the gas explosion and the fire were caused due to the negligence of Supergas and/or its employees.
This claim was filed also against the estate of the deceased, the owner of the residential complex and its insurer, as well as against a gas technician who provided gas services to the owner.
Supergas argued that the claim should be dismissed in limine, due to lack of cause of action and/or privity. In addition, according to the findings of the investigation conducted by the relevant authorities shortly after the event (ie, fire and rescue services, the Ministry of National Infrastructure and the police), at the deceased's residence there were a number of gas appliances, while there was only one gas valve.
Supergas argued that these findings indicate that the deceased was negligent in that he chose to independently and unprofessionally disconnect the gas pipe connected to the single gas valve located in his living room and connect it to different gas appliances.
It was further argued that the investigation shows that the deceased used a gas stove by connecting it to the gas valve placed in the kitchen wall using a long flexible pipe that stretched from the kitchen wall up to the centre of the living room.
All this, despite the danger inherent in the disconnection and independent connection of the gas, led to the unfortunate event and Supergas' dismissal of liability.
Moreover, Supergas argued that the gas system that it had examined during the two inspections at the site in 2012 (mandatory by law to be carried out every five years) was found to be in order.
The Magistrate Court of Petah Tiqva determined that the gas company was not liable for the incident and dismissed the claim against it.
The Court found that under the circumstances, the liability for the gas leak, the gas explosion and the fire, should be imposed solely on the deceased.
The Court based its determination on the following:
- among other things, the existence of a single gas valve in the deceased's apartment, based on the expert opinion issued on behalf of the fire department shortly after the event;
- findings from the scene as per the fire investigator's opinion, which was issued on behalf of the fire department, as well as the opinion issued by expert Eli Heine, according to which two gas appliances were found at the deceased's apartment, including a space heater in the kitchen with severe heat damage and signs of heat and deformation;
- the findings from the scene shortly after the incident, and in particular the finding regarding the presence of the heater, contradicted the expert opinion submitted by the estate of the deceased, where it was stated that the heater was found in the yard;
- at face value, the findings of the expert on behalf of the estate stem from the fact that he visited the scene approximately nine days after the incident, hence he could not be certain as to the exact location of the heater; and
- the plaintiff's testimony, which was given on several occasions, including shortly after the event, according to which during one of his visits at the deceased's apartment, a few months prior to the event, he noticed that the deceased used a gas heater in the apartment. According to the plaintiff's testimony, this heater was connected to a flexible pipe that was connected to the sole gas valve that existed in the deceased's apartment.
The Court determined that, as there was no indication of any defect in the building's gas system, particularly in the deceased's apartment, the source of the gas expansion that led to the explosion and fire was due to connection issues and the fact that the deceased had disassembled it.
The Court determined that Supergas had fulfilled its obligations under the regulations, according to which it is required to examine the gas system once every five years.
The Court referred to the fact that the last periodic inspection that the Supergas gas technician had conducted took place in July 2012, while the gas leak that led to the event occurred prior to the date of the next periodic inspection, which should have been in July 2017.
In addition, the Court determined that there is no causal connection between the Supergas examination dated July 2012 and the gas leak that occurred more than two and a half years later.
Given the above, the claim against Supergas and the other defendants was dismissed, while the estate of the deceased was ordered to pay the plaintiff a total amount of 121,227 new Israeli shekels ($37,400), in addition to other costs and lawyer's fees.
The estate of the deceased and the plaintiff appealed this judgment.
For further information on this topic please contact Sharon Shefer or Sigal Avshalom at Levitan, Sharon & Co by telephone (+972 3 688 6768) or by fax (+972 3 688 6769) or by email ([email protected] or [email protected]).