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Bubrick v. Northern Ill. Gas

SEPTEMBER 23, 1970.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. WILLIAM V. DALY, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.


Plaintiffs brought an action for property damage to their home and personal belongings by the alleged negligence of defendant in causing a fire. Defendant appeals from a judgment in favor of plaintiffs, in the amount of $22,114.00. Defendant contends that the trial court committed prejudicial error by allowing certain instructions to be submitted to the jury, thus entitling defendant to a new trial.

Plaintiffs moved into their home in July, 1959, and remained in residence until January 24, 1961, when it was extensively damaged by fire. The fire originated in a small enclosure attached to the rear of the house. This enclosure was described as a shed, cubicle, cabinet or box and in appearance it was similar to a dog house. It was of wood construction, 4 feet high, 3 1/2 to 4 feet long and 3 1/2 feet in width with a concrete foundation.

This enclosure contained a water pipe, gas meter and regulator and an electrical switch that actuated the water pump which was located in a well 75 to 80 feet from the house.

STEVE BUBRICK, testified on his own behalf:

He had only one occasion to enter this enclosure and that occurred in October, 1960, when he placed sawdust into it covering the water line coming out of the ground into the kitchen to prevent it from freezing. He did notice that in the spring grass did not grow near this enclosure. The weather, the evening and morning of the fire, was in the subzero temperatures and plaintiffs deliberately left the water running to keep the pipes from freezing.

On the morning of the fire, plaintiff awakened at 3:00 a.m. and noticed the house was filled with smoke. He awakened his wife and they fled the house. They did not smell any gas nor did they see any flames in the house, but when plaintiff went outside, he saw a light in the enclosure. He opened the door to the enclosure and saw flames pouring from underneath a gas pipe below the meter. The flame was bluish, 7 to 8 inches high and 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide, and was coming through the sawdust which was now all ashes alongside the pipe. Plaintiff went to seek a hose, but by that time firemen had arrived at the scene. At this point in time, he heard an explosion and saw gas or fire coming out in spurts, making a trumpeting sound. The whole side of the house started to burn, and it was not until four hours later that the fire was extinguished.

Plaintiff left for work but returned in a few hours and noticed that the gas meter and approximately eight feet of defendant's underground gas pipe had been removed.

MRS. BUBRICK, plaintiff's wife, testified:

In 1960 she called defendant because of gas odors in her kitchen and they came and made adjustments to her range. On several occasions she believes she smelled gas inside their home.

FRED TELTZ, testified on behalf of plaintiff:

He was a member of the Lake Villa Fire Department and responded to a fire at plaintiff's home. Upon his arrival, he observed the fire was intense at the area of the enclosure. The regulator was burning and defendant was summoned to shut off the flow of gas. A serviceman from defendant arrived within an hour and with the assistance of the firemen and their fog nozzle equipment, he was able to reach into the enclosure and shut the valve. The fire at the regulator then extinguished. The witness had no recollection of anyone removing any gas equipment and the last time he saw the regulator and gas meter was when he helped defendant's serviceman shut the valve which was located just below the regulator.

On cross-examination the witness related that he observed the flame 18 inches above the ground at the area where the regulator was located. There was no flame coming from the ground.

EDWARD C. McLEAN, testified on behalf of plaintiff:

He is an expert in the field of Industrial Engineering and in the design and construction of systems utilizing gas or electricity. He had occasion to examine fire damage to structures and machinery in the pursuance of his expertise. In response to a hypothetical question, this witness responded that in his opinion the initial source of fuel or combustible material which caused the fire was the gas coming out of the ground. The ignition of the gas was caused by the electric switch which energized the water pump in order to elevate the water pressure after it had been diminished by the constantly running water to prevent freezing. The source of fuel in the flames could only have come from the pipe carrying high pressure gas to ...

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