The Heartland Midwest supervisor who called 911 after his company struck an unmarked gas line says Missouri Gas Energy should have evacuated the area and done more to cut off the flow of gas before an explosion ripped through JJ's Restaurant.
Mike Tanner says he has incurred more than $1 million in medical bills after he suffered burns over 20 percent of his body, debilitating fractures and lacerations following the Feb. 19 explosion.
Tanner and his wife, Crystal, have sued Missouri Gas Energy, USIC Locating Services, a utility line marking company and Michael Palier, the supervisor for MGE who responded to the scene.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday, which was the same day in which Tanner was released from the hospital.
Megan Cramer, a server at JJ's, was killed in the explosion. Fifteen others including Tanner and Palier were injured.
Tanner was the go-to supervisor for the Heartland Midwest crew digging outside of JJ's the day of the explosion. He was one of the last workers to arrive after the gas leak and Tanner is one of the last to go home from the hospital.
Tanner has spent the past two months in and out of more than nine surgeries and recovering from burns that scar 20 percent of his body.
He's come out of the darkest hour as he finally got to go home Thursday and, with his homecoming, a lawsuit was filed on his behalf.
"On average one person a month dies as a result of gas distribution strikes either through explosions or fires. What can be done? We know we can't stop all gas leaks, but what has to be done is the response has to be better in the field," Rich McLeod, Tanner's lawyer, said.
McLeod said Tanner responded to the JJ's scene after his crew called him about a possible gas leak.
"It took him about half an hour to get to the scene. When he got there nobody seemed to be in charge and his crew told him, 'Well, MGE people told us everything is going to be OK and we don't need the fire department,'" McLeod said.
McLeod said Tanner will have seven figures worth of medical bills to pay back, should he be awarded money from the lawsuit, plus the countless physical difficulties he'll face from the explosion.
"The goal will be, 'Can we take care of Mike and Crystal's family?'" he said.
McLeod said it was a difficult decision for the family to name the MGE employee who is accused of not evacuating the restaurant and suffered severe burns. But the family wants to see change in the industry and they said that means holding everyone accountable.
The marking company noted two utility lines but failed to mark the third line, which was the MGE gas line, according to the lawsuit.
When a pipeline rupture occurs, the leak must be stopped by turning off the shut off valves, according to the lawsuit. The area should have been vented.
"Southern Union either failed to install such valves or failed to close them after learning of the rupture," according to the lawsuit.
MGE should have evacuated the area, the lawsuit claims. The companies and Palier were negligent.
According to the lawsuit, Tanner "was trapped in rubble and debris for some time, and had to be extracted by machines and men."
The injured worker is disabled and "will suffer partial or complete disability in the future," according to the lawsuit.
Tanner's wife has helped her husband and has suffered a loss of income and quality of life, according to the lawsuit.
The couple is seeking punitive damages.
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