In Texas, there are generally few circumstances in which an aggrieved homeowner may sue their natural gas provider for ordinary negligence for a home explosion or fire caused by a natural gas leak. For each natural gas provider in the State, the circumstances are limited and specifically identified in each provider’s tariff, a document the provider is required to file with the Texas Railroad Committee to operate in Texas. In each filed tariff, language specifically provides when the natural gas provider cannot be sued for damage/injury caused by a natural gas leak when it can. The tariff may also clarify that the provider cannot be liable for damage caused by the escape of gas from a homeowner’s home piping or appliances.
It is imperative that when considering whether to file a lawsuit against a natural gas provider for an explosion or fire caused by a natural gas leak one consults the provider’s filed tariff, which is public record and therefore, easily accessible. To fail to consider the tariff or worse, to ignore it, risks summary judgment as to ordinary negligence claims. For a plaintiff’s ordinary negligence claims to survive the tariff’s swift axe, the negligence claims must fall within the allowable grounds to bring a negligence claim and must otherwise not conflict with any portion of the tariff that would disallow suit. Should any portion of the negligence claim or its factual underpinning fall outside the tariff’s scope, the tariff’s liability limits will foreclose the plaintiff’s negligence claims. See Centerpoint Energy Res. Corp. v. Ramirez, 640 S.W.3d 205, 212 (Tex. 2022).
However, the tariff does not bar all claims even if its limiting language applies—the Texas Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a plaintiff is still free to assert gross negligence against the natural gas provider as applicable. Still, it cannot be stressed enough that to proceed in litigation against a natural gas provider for a leak, the tariff must be considered. As the Ramirez case proves, the Texas Supreme Court will adhere strictly to a tariff’s limiting language as applied to a plaintiff’s ordinary negligence claims.