Fatal propane fire case proceeds to trial

By Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau | Mar 12, 2009

MARSHALL – With mediation failing and further negotiations suspended, a wrongful death litigation involving the refilling of a propane cylinder will continue with its upcoming June trial date.

The lawsuit at issue argues that Gary Wayne Suggs suffered fatal injuries from a flash fire which started after he attempted to refill a propane container using a coupling.

Suggs' family attributes the incident to a faulty and defective coupling. The distributor of the coupling argues Suggs misused the coupling by attempting to refill a non-refillable container.

Individually and as estate representative of Gary Wayne Suggs, his father Billy Ray Suggs filed a product liability suit against the coupling's distributor, K-M Productions Inc. on Feb 25 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

According to the original complaint, Suggs was attempting to refill a DOT-39, 1.02 pound propane cylinder from a 40 pound propane cylinder using a MAC coupler while inside a fifth wheel trailer.

When a flash fire occurred, Suggs died from smoke inhalation and thermal burns.

The plaintiff alleges that K-M knew the coupler was defectively designed and manufactured.

The lawsuit claims K-M is liable because the coupler did not have sufficient, appropriate or securely affixed warning labels.

In a third amended complaint, the plaintiff added that the warning labels were not made of proper materials and thus the label integrity was compromised, making any warning not legible or understandable.

Further, the plaintiff argues the manufacturer failed to use proper materials for the coupler and failed to adequately test or inspect the product and its components.

Billy Ray Suggs alleges K-M is guilty of gross negligence and argues the company's conduct was heedless, reckless and with a conscious indifference to the welfare and safety of his son.

K-M Products admits to designing and distributing the coupling but states it did not manufacture it.

Further, the defendant states the deceased misused the product "by disregarding the warnings and instructions for the use of the product and by attempting to use the MAC coupler to re-fill a non-refillable cylinder."

The plaintiff is seeking wrongful death damages for emotional pain, grief, and sorrow, and pecuniary losses including loss of care, maintenance, support, services, advice, counseling and losses by virtue of the destruction of the parent-child relationship.

On behalf of the deceased, the plaintiff is seeking damages for pain and suffering, funeral and burial expenses.

John D. Sloan Jr. and J. Ryan Fowler of the Sloan, Bagley, Hatcher and Perry Law Firm in Tyler and Thomas H. Brown of Kilgore are representing the plaintiff.

U.S. District Judge T. John Ward is assigned to the litigation.

Case No.: 2:08cv00084

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