Last evening a massive explosion shook the Kansas City Country Club Plaza and engulfed JJ’s Restaurant causing serious injury and death. Although the traumatic and unsettling event is now over, many of us within the Kansas City community are left wondering how this could have happened and what changes will be made to stop something of this magnitude from happening again in the future.

At this point, it is still unclear exactly what caused such a major explosion. Initial rumors were that a car struck a gas pipe igniting the explosion. Those rumors were laid to rest when Missouri Gas Energy issued a statement late Tuesday saying “early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues.” The obvious question is how could a gas leak cause an explosion of this magnitude and why was nothing more could have been done, if not to stop it from happening then to at least vacate the surrounding areas, with reports of the gas leak occurring as early as 1 pm?

To answer these questions, the Missouri Public Service Commission (MPSC) is expected to conduct an investigation as it is the committee with regulatory oversight in public construction projects. The Missouri Revised Statutes delegate the MPSC general powers of commission in respect to gas, water, electricity, and sewer services. As such, the power to order such reasonable improvements as will best promote the future public interest, preserve the public health and protect those using gas is in the hands of the MPSC.

Time can only tell what MPSC’s investigation will reveal and how they plan to improve public gas line operations, but in the meantime, Missouri and Kansas residents can do their part in preventing future gas leaks leading to explosions, fires, and the loss of human life as occurred this week on the Plaza.

Before starting an excavation project, all individuals or contractors must obtain permission to proceed with an excavation project through Kansas and Missouri’s “Call Before you Dig” programs. This law applies to not only a construction company breaking ground on a multi-million dollar project, but also to a Kansas or Missouri homeowner digging a hole to plant a tree.

The failure of any person to give notice of proposed excavation activities as required shall be a rebuttable presumption of negligence on his part in the event that such failure shall cause injury, loss, or damage. RSMo §319.040

After confirming whether or not there are underground facilities in your area, you can then proceed with an excavation avoiding the possibility of striking gas, sewage, or water lines. By following this simple step, individuals can avoid causing major pipe leaks that could cause potentially fatal scenarios.

Be aware that simply calling ahead does not absolve you or anyone else from liability if damage or injury occurs during an excavation project. Providing notice to dig shall not relieve an excavator from the obligation to excavate in a safe and prudent manner, nor shall it absolve an excavator from liability for damage to legally installed facilities. RSMo §319.041.

As individuals, we can do our part to prevent gas leaks, fires, explosions and loss of life by following these simple laws.

For the Kansas City community, healing from the sting of Tuesday’s tragedy will take time. Part of the healing process will be to determine who is responsible for the explosion. It may take months or years for the community to move past such a catastrophic event, but starting today we can do all that is in our power to avoid an event of this scale from ever happening again.

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.