LA Firefighters Injured in Truck Explosion File Suit

Seven Los Angeles city firefighters who were injured in a truck explosion earlier this year, have filed suit against the truck’s driver, owner and manufacturers alleging negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty. A total of nine firefighters were injured in the explosion, who of whom suffered critical injuries.

The firefighters, Andres Saenz II, Casey Dunn, Daniel Goen, Howard Weiserweaver, Ian Gallardo, Robert Ward and Tom Rodriguez, were part of a multi-company response to a truck fire. They were unaware that the truck was powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The truck lacked any warning signs, and the truck’s driver, Shania Janea Sutton, failed to warn them when they arrived on the scene.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • On February 15, 2024, at or around 6:58 a.m., the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD), including Plaintiffs, responded to the 1100 block of North Alameda Street in the Wilmington area of the City of Los Angeles, State of California for a reported motor vehicle fire.
  • Within minutes, Plaintiffs arrived at the scene of the reported motor vehicle fire and were presented with a fully involved fire of a Freightliner Semi-Truck which was operated by Defendant SUTTON while in the course and scope of her employment with Defendants HLT, TTSI, PTSI.
  • The SUBJECT VEHICLE was a compressed natural gas powered truck, containing two CNG tanks, although the presence of the CNG tanks was not reported to 9-1-1 emergency call takers, nor did Defendant SUTTON notify first responders, such as Plaintiffs, upon their arrival.
  • The SUBJECT VEHICLE fire presented no differently from that of a gasoline powered vehicle fire and there was nothing visible to Plaintiffs on the SUBJECT VEHICLE to warn emergency response personnel, including Plaintiffs, that the SUBJECT VEHICLE was equipped with CNG tanks.
  • LAFD Fire Station 49 personnel arrived first and positioned their fire apparatus at a nearby fire hydrant approximately 50 to 100 feet from the SUBJECT VEHICLE. 49s fire personnel then laid a water supply line using the closest accessible hydrant.
  • Approximately one minute later, Los Angeles Fire Department, Fire Station 38 personnel arrived and parked their fire apparatus approximately 200 to 250 feet from the SUBJECT VEHICLE. 38s personnel exited their fire apparatus.
  • Immediately upon arrival, LAFD 49s personnel, including Plaintiffs, began their standard practices and procedures to extinguish a fully involved vehicle fire.
  • At the time Plaintiffs were attempting to extinguish the fire, Plaintiffs were unaware of the hidden danger posed by the defective CNG tank(s) because there was no feasible way for Plaintiffs to have known of the risk of harm of such latent defects. Meaning, if the Plaintiffs had known it was a CNG tank, there was no way to know it was defective and thus no way to understand that there was a bomb about to explode.
  • Plaintiffs were unaware that the CNG tank and/or its component parts were improperly designed and/or manufactured, and/or maintained, and/or filled at the time of the incident, there was no feasible way for Plaintiffs to have discerned the hidden dangers associated with the CNG tank and/or its component parts.
  • While Plaintiffs were on scene, and without warning, one of the SUBJECT VEHICLE’S CNG tanks on the East side of the SUBJECT VEHICLE exploded like a bomb, propelling Plaintiffs with a massive shock wave.
  • The explosion caused Plaintiffs to suffer severe, agonizing, and life-altering injuries. Had the CNG tank and/or its component parts been designed and/or manufactured and/or maintained properly and/or used properly, and or been filled and operated properly, the explosion which injured Plaintiffs would not have occurred.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants HEXAGON, AGILITY FUEL SYSTEMS, and AGILITY FUEL SOLUTIONS, inclusive, and each of them, manufactured, distributed, sold, and introduce the SUBJECT TANK to the stream of commerce.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendant DAIMLER manufactured, distributed, sold, and SUBJECT VEHICLE to the stream of commerce.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants HLT, TTSI, PTSI, SUTTON, and DOES 61-70, inclusive, and each of them, either owned, maintained, and/or operated the SUBJECT VEHICLE and SUBJECT TANK.

The suit alleges negligence, strict liability due to design defect, strict liability due to failure to warn, strict liability manufacturing defect, and breach of warranty. Here is a copy of the complaint.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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