On December 12 a verdict of $1.7 million was returned in favor of clients represented by the Beattie Law Firm based in in part on Odor Fade caused by Soil Adsorption. The defects in the odor only warning system known as odor fade are well known within the propane gas industry. One of the leading causes of odor fade is soil adsorption. This is a process by which, in the event of an underground gas line leak exterior to a home, the soil will scrub or leach out the odorant from the gas leaving the gas unodorized. In this case a contractor years before the explosion that occurred in May 2008 pierced the gas line approximately 60 feet from the home of Dick and Don Firgard. It was repaired by the contractor and the gas system operated normally for years until the line finally leaked propane which migrated through the soil into the basement of the Firgard home. By the time the gas reached into the basement it was unodorized because the soil had leached or scrubbed out the odorant.
The Beattie Law Firm called 2 experts Tim Dunn, a chemical engineer, and Robert Stubbs, an odor chemist to testify to the process that occurred. These experts also testified regarding the fact that soil adsorption form of odor fade wells well known within the propane gas industry and had been for years. In fact the experts testified to well-established and well accepted studies that had been conducted by industry experts including chemists from Philips Petroleum documenting soil adsorption-odor fade.
Notwithstanding this testimony in reliance upon well-established industry studies the gas retailer a subsidiary of Growmark called 3 defense experts who attempted unsuccessfully, to convince the jury that soil absorption – odor fade
did not occur in this case based upon their testing. They testified that because of this Donna Firgard should have been able to detect the odorant in the basement and thus blamed her. As part of its assault on Mrs. Firgard the Growmark retailer called the Iowa State Fire Marshal to testify to alleged admissions Mrs. Firgard purportedly made which were admissions amounting to detecting the odorant. The jury rejected this.
The odor fade form of soil adsorption is well known within the propane industry and this case establishes that reliance upon independent industry studies is more readily accepted by a jury than purported studies conducted by experts retained by the gas company.