8 El Pecos explosion lawsuits go to trial

FILE PHOTO: Then health minister Dr Fuad Khan speaks to a fire officer in front of an El Pecos restuarant at Royal Palm Hotel, Maraval, soon after an explosion at the restaurant on February 5, 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Then health minister Dr Fuad Khan speaks to a fire officer in front of an El Pecos restuarant at Royal Palm Hotel, Maraval, soon after an explosion at the restaurant on February 5, 2015.

A series of lawsuits all relating to the deadly explosion at the El Pecos restaurant in Maraval in 2015 will go to trial after a High Court judge refused applications by National Petroleum Marketing Company Ltd (NP) to have them stayed.

National Petroleum had asked for stays in four claims which involved them in four of eight lawsuits filed by the family of the man who died of injuries on that fateful day on February 5, 2015, customers and staff at the restaurant and neighbouring businesses, companies which are claiming losses and insurance companies seeking reimbursement for claims.

The first matter to go to trial, possibly in November, will be that of the claim filed by the brother of the restaurant’s accountant John Soo Ping Chow who died at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami from burn injuries he sustained in the blast.

A dozen people were seriously injured in the explosion and four months later, Soo Ping Chow died.

On Friday, Justice Nadia Kangaloo said NP’s applications to stay the proceedings were based on two appeals of two previous rulings by Justices Avason Quinlan-Williams in 2020 and Ricky Rahim in 2022. It was NP’s contention that Kangaloo, in the other eight matters, could benefit from the appellate court’s findings and avoid a third appeal being filed in connection with incidents relating to the blast.

In ruling against granting the stay, Kangaloo said one should not be imposed unless reasons were provided to show why the proceedings should not continue or that their continuance would cause injustice to parties.

“A stay must not cause injustice,” she said, adding that NP had not demonstrated why one should be given.

“The applications for a stay cannot withstand the scrutiny of the (legal) authorities,” she said.

After refusing NP’s applications, the judge set directions for the exchange of expert reports along with evidential objections. Kangaloo also set aside five days in November for the trial of the Soo Ping Chow matter and a pre-trial review in July.

She also urged the other parties to hold discussions on possibly choosing one of the matters as a test case otherwise she will proceed with each and set trial dates at a later stage.

In the first decided case, in 2020, Quinlan-Williams found North Plant LPG Co Operative Society Ltd, a gas supplier, negligent and liable for damage to the property which housed the El Pecos restaurant.

Continental Corporation, the owner of the Royal Palm Plaza in Maraval, which housed El Pecos and several other businesses, sued North Plant for negligence for loss, damage and expenses caused by the gas supplier’s employees in delivering liquid gas to the restaurant.

Quinlan-Williams found North Plant to have caused the deadly explosion at the restaurant. She ordered North Plant to pay compensation of $600,000 to the property’s owner.

In March 2022, Rahim ordered North Plant to compensate its lorry man who assisted in the delivery of the liquified petroleum gas, or cooking gas, to El Pecos.

He found North Plant’s agent, the driver of the gas truck who accompanied Gregory Maicoo, failed to use standard operating practices and procedures in delivering the gas and failed to take all reasonable and effective measures by supervising or ensuring a safe system of work.

The deadly blast took place around 10.35 am on February 5, 2015.

A fire investigation report from the fire service suggested that there was a gas leak in the delivery line of North Plant’s truck.

However, the report deemed the explosion as accidental, as it stated: “The most probable cause of the fire was as a result of ignition to a mixture of LPG and air, within the rear passageway near the El Pecos LPG cylinders.”

Some of the cases before Kangaloo deal with compensation claims from those who were injured in the explosion, while some deal with claims from the insurance companies for neighbouring restaurants that were affected by the blast, who are suing to recoup the payouts they would have made to their clients.

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