Houston, Texas (Feb. 23, 2022) — Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner Partner Brant J. Stogner, and firm attorneys Jennifer O. Stogner, Jonathan D. Sneed and Soroush Montazari, have filed a lawsuit in Dallas County against the Apartment Complex, its Management Companies, and Atmos Energy Corporation on behalf of the three firefighters who were severely burned and permanently injured as a result of a natural gas explosion at the Highland Hills Apartments in Oak Cliff on September 29, 2021 (“the Explosion”). The three injured firefighters, Captain Christopher Gadomski, Engineer Ronald Hall, and Officer Pauline Perez, sustained significant injuries and burns in the Explosion, requiring multiple surgeries and on-going medical care. The lawsuit alleges claims for negligence, premises liability and gross negligence against the Apartment Complex Owner and Management Defendants (Mountain Creek
Apts., LP, Odin Properties, Odin Management) and the complex’s gas supplier, Atmos Energy Corporation.
On September 29, 2021, Dallas firefighters Captain Christopher Gadomski, Engineer Ronald Hall, and Officer Pauline Perez responded to what was initially a carbon monoxide leak call at the Highland Hills Apartments. Upon arrival, Apartment Complex and Management employees used a drill, not a master key, to remove the doorknob of Highland Hills Unit 129 and open the front door to gain access. Inside, a severed gas line was discovered that was actively leaking natural gas. The gas supply to the building had not been shut off, and the apartment building had not been evacuated.
Officer Pauline Perez entered Unit 129 with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to determine if anyone was injured and to attempt to locate the leak inside the apartment. Captain Gadomski and Engineer Hall were outside of Unit 129 with management, attempting to locate the main service line to shut off the gas supply to Building 5726. Suddenly and without warning, a massive gas explosion occurred causing severe burns and catastrophic injuries to all three (3) firefighters.
Initial investigation reports, while still preliminary, concluded that the gas leak inside the unit was likely caused by a bullet from a domestic violence incident on the property hours before the Explosion. At some point, an alleged shooter entered Highland Hills Apartments’ property and shot multiple rounds at or near Unit 129 from outside. The alleged shooter was identified and arrested for causing the leak. But, while the bullet may have caused the initial gas leak, the bullet did not cause the Explosion.
After the Explosion on September 29, 2021, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) completed an investigation. RRC Investigators determined that Odin Properties and Mountain Creek Apts., L.P. operated an unregistered natural gas master meter system that failed to meet minimum federal and state standards, including:
(1) Failing to draft and implement policies to ensure safe operation of Odin’s natural gas system, including timely leak detection;
(2) Failing to conduct a hazard analysis, including an analysis of the known risk of gun violence on the property and a resulting leak;
(3) Failing to secure the Highland Hills complex to minimize the risk of trespassers and gun violence to people and property;
(4) Failing to implement an emergency plan in the event of a leak, valve shut off procedures, and evacuation of buildings if an ultra-hazardous condition existed;
(5) Failing to employ qualified persons to address leaks within Odin’s system with knowledge of valve locations and emergency procedures;
(6) Failing to adequately inspect the natural gas system, conduct leak surveys, and perform preventative maintenance; and
(7) Failing to install overpressure equipment or excess flow valves to minimize active leaks and cut off gas supply automatically.
In addition to the unsafe condition of its gas system, Mountain Creek Apts, LP, and Odin Properties knew violent crime and gunfire was rampant on their properties. The City of Dallas designated Highland Hills and its sister property, Mountain Creek, as “common nuisances” because the owners and management failed to secure their property and minimize violent gun crime. In December 2020, Mountain Creek Apts., L.P. and Odin Properties entered into an “Agreed Judgment” with the City of Dallas requiring them to implement minimum security standards for one (1) year. The court-ordered safety standards imposed by the City included requirements for: (1) increased security personnel on the property around the clock, (2) controlling access and preventing trespassers, (3) 24-hour monitored video surveillance, and (4) immediate incident reporting to Dallas Police of criminal activity. Once again, Mountain Creek and Odin failed to comply with these minimum safety standards, failed to provide adequate security, failed to prevent active gun violence, and failed to timely investigate criminal activity. The Agreed Judgment was in effect at the time of the Explosion.
Atmos Energy supplied natural gas to Mountain Creek and Odin’s apartment complexes, including Highland Hills. It appears Atmos was unaware of the unregistered master meter system it supplied. Over the years, Atmos made numerous repairs to the gas system after leak reports, including leaks created by prior gunshots on the premises. In fact, Atmos initially filed an incident report with the RRC listing itself as the gas operator for the complex. While that report was later withdrawn, it demonstrates Atmos did not know who it was supplying gas to and did not maintain accurate safety records. The lawsuit alleges that Atmos failed to ensure that Mountain Creek and Odin’s master meter system (1) was registered with the State of Texas or (2) complied with the minimum state and federal requirements. Atmos knew the inherent risks of a natural gas explosion, affirmatively made repairs to Mountain Creek and Odin’s unregistered master meter gas system in response to numerous leaks, and failed to require Mountain Creek and Odin to implement their own safety and emergency measures for addressing leaks.
Building 5726, where the Explosion occurred, was demolished before midnight on September 29, 2021. It took three (3) weeks for gas service to be restored due to numerous other leaks and code violations on the property. Disturbingly, just three (3) months after the Explosion, Atmos returned to the Highland Hills Apartments because – once again – the master meter system was leaking natural gas.
This Explosion was preventable. Plaintiffs allege that the combination of failures prior to and on the morning of this Incident caused this Explosion to occur. As a result, Plaintiffs – all three (3) firefighters with the City of Dallas – sustained severe and permanent injuries and extensive burns. Officer Pauline Perez sustained second- and third-degree burns to her hands, arms, legs, her ears, and her face. Due to the nature and extent of the injuries she sustained, Officer Perez required ICU admission and burn unit care at Parkland. She endured multiple surgeries, including skin grafts, to address her wounds. Since her release from the hospital, she is relearning to use her hands as her skin grafts heal.
She continues to require ongoing medical treatment for these injuries and will continue to require additional long-term care and treatment for those injuries in the future.
Engineer Hall suffered extensive second-and third-degree burns to 40% of his body including his face, head, arms, and legs. He sustained a severe right leg fracture which required emergency surgery. To date, Engineer Hall has undergone a multitude of surgeries, including additional procedures on his right leg and treatment for his extensive burns. Engineer Hall’s injuries required ICU admission at Parkland for 5 days, Burn Unit admission for 3 weeks, and in-patient rehab at Zale Lipshy for 2 weeks. Engineer Hall continues to require ongoing medical treatment for his severe injuries and will continue additional long-term care and treatment.
Captain Christopher Gadomski was thrown backward a considerable distance by the force of the explosion and through two building walls. Captain Gadomski suffered numerous second-and third-degree burns, as well as extensive broken bones in both legs. Captain Gadomski was hospitalized for six (6) weeks and required multiple surgeries on both legs to stabilize what remained of his bones as well as burn and wound care. Captain Gadomski still suffers from multiple injuries, constant pain in both legs, and continues to require both therapy and surgical intervention due to the severe nature of his injuries.
In their Original Petition, the firefighters seek monetary relief over $1,000,000.00 for medical expenses, lost wages, and permanent injuries, among other damages, from Atmos Energy Corporation and the Apartment Complex Defendants. The firefighters are also seeking exemplary damages of $100,000,000.00 against all the defendants for their gross negligence.
“This pattern of unsafe, hazardous practices must stop. The lives of three firefighters – public servants – were forever changed by this Explosion. As a result of years of ignoring safety, ignoring crime, and failing to comply with the minimum state and federal requirements, the Highland Hills Apartment complex and its gas system became a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. While a bullet may have caused the gas leak, these defendants caused the Explosion. Captain Gadomski, Engineer Hall, and Officer Perez dedicated their lives to service, and it is unclear whether any of them will ever be physically able to return to firefighting. Their injuries from the Explosion are permanent, but they were preventable. My firm and I are filing suit to hold Atmos, Mountain Creek Apts, LP, Odin Properties, and Odin Management accountable and to seek justice for the three firefighters injured due to Defendants’ negligence and gross negligence.” said firm partner, Brant J. Stogner, lead attorney for the three injured firefighters.
For questions regarding the lawsuit or interview requests, please contact Geoffrey Adkinson at [email protected] or 713-222-7211, Jennifer Stogner at [email protected], or Soroush Montazari at [email protected].