July 28, 2010 in City

City of Spokane to pay $125,000 in lawsuit over blast

Council resolution admits no fault in 2005 explosion
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A natural gas explosion that burned the owners of a heating and air conditioning business in 2005 will cost the city of Spokane $125,000.

The Spokane City Council voted 6-0 on Monday to pay Avista Corp. $125,000 as part of a lawsuit filed by the owners of Cougar Mechanical, 3818 E. Joseph Ave., against Avista and the city.

In May, Avista agreed to pay owners Monte and Katie Yockey $500,000 to settle the dispute, and the utility company and Spokane decided they would continue negotiating to determine how much of that payment would be the city’s responsibility.

The explosion occurred the morning of Dec. 30, 2005, at Cougar Mechanical when Monte Yockey attempted to light incense with a lighter.

The explosion was blamed on a leaking natural gas line at the intersection of Julia Street and Joseph Avenue. Leaking gas migrated more than 200 feet to the interior of Cougar Mechanical because of ground frost, according to an investigation by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. The report said the crack in the line grew slowly over time as the result of “external stress” on top of it. Avista argued that the damage was caused by a city sewer project from the early 1990s.

Yockey was “momentarily engulfed in flames” and an explosion started a couch on fire, according to a Spokane Fire Department report of the incident. Yockey suffered first- and second-degree burns to his hands and face. His wife, who also was in the building, suffered minor burns, according to the report. They were treated and released the same day at Holy Family Hospital. Employees put out the residual fire before firefighters arrived. At the time, fire officials said the force of the explosion caused a wall to move several inches.

The Yockeys’ claim against the city said Monte Yockey was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the explosion. It said that the Yockeys’ medical bills were more than $20,000 and property damage was more than $7,000.

Councilman Bob Apple said he was “not happy” that the city would have to pay a portion of the settlement, but city attorneys advised that the payout was “the best we can do.”

“If we were to push this longer or harder, we would probably spend as much in attorney fees,” Apple said.

The Yockeys filed the lawsuit against Avista in 2007. They filed a claim against the city in 2008.

The resolution approved by the council on Monday says the city is not admitting fault for the explosion.


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