BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — DANVERS — The state Appeals Court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that blamed natural gas for causing the devastating 2006 explosion inside a former ink plant in Danversport.
The explosion, on Nov. 22, 2006, was blamed on a vapor cloud that ignited inside the CAI Arnel ink plant off Water Street. The blast destroyed that building and heavily damaged dozens of homes in the neighborhood. Ten people were injured, and windows were shattered as far as two miles away.
Insurance companies for the plant owner paid to settle claims by residents and business owners, as well as boat owners whose vessels were damaged at the nearby Riverside Marina. But in a civil lawsuit filed in 2009, the plant’s owners laid blame instead on National Grid and predecessor companies, claiming that work on the gas mains before the explosion triggered the blast.
In 2011 a Lawrence Superior Court judge dismissed the case, granting a motion for summary judgment, over the objections of lawyers for the plant.
According to the case docket, those attorneys had asked a judge to order National Grid to hand over records for a far broader area, and for a longer period of time both before and after the blast. Instead, the judge limited the request for evidence to work that was done within a half-mile radius of the plant in the six months leading up to the explosion.
The judge also denied the request for information about work that was done by the gas utility in the months after the explosion, finding that repair records for the area after the explosion would be unlikely to shed any light on the cause of the explosion or on the condition of the pipes and fittings before the blast.
Subsequently, Superior Court Judge Thomas Murtagh concluded that there was insufficient evidence to show any link between utility work and the blast, and dismissed the case.
CAI appealed, and following a hearing in October, the Appeals Court ruled yesterday that the judge was within his discretion to limit the request for “discovery” (the process of exchanging evidence in a court case).
“The thrust of the plaintiffs’ claim is that the motion judges improperly limited their discovery requests,” the Appeals Court decision says.
But decisions to limit discovery are, the court held, within a judge’s discretion, and unless CAI could show some abuse of discretion, the lower court’s ruling will stand.
“The plaintiffs’ factually unsupported expert affidavit notwithstanding, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated that post-accident repair and complaint records have any reasonable likelihood of demonstrating that alleged gas leaks or corroded infrastructure at some geographic and temporal distance from the accident site more probably than not were a substantial contributing cause of the accident,” the court ruled.
The court found that there is no basis to conclude that the judge’s orders limiting the evidence were unreasonable.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.