Insurers Expect Claims from N.Y City Steam Pipe Explosion

By | July 29, 2007

Consolidated Edison in New York has agreed to let two insurance companies anticipating millions of dollars in claims monitor the cleanup of last week’s steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan, the utility’s spokesman said.

The agreement between Con Ed, Travelers Indemnity Co. and Allianz Global Risks U.S. Insurance will give the companies’ inspectors access to the site, Con Ed spokesman Michael Clendenin said.

A day earlier, the insurance companies filed a court petition to force the utility to preserve evidence from the July 18 blast. A ruptured pipe sent a geyser of steam, mud and asbestos-tainted debris over the neighborhood near Grand Central Terminal.

One woman died of a heart attack after the explosion. A man was critically burned over 80 percent of his body, and dozens of others were injured as a result of the blast.

The utility had inspected the intersection where the explosion took place seven hours earlier and hadn’t noticed anything amiss.

It was not in the public’s best interest to allow only city agencies and Con Ed, “potentially culpable parties in future possible litigation,” to have sole control over the removal of evidence from the street crater created by the explosion, the insurance companies said in the court filing.

The insurance companies say they have been notified that claims will be coming from people and businesses affected by the explosion.

Meanwhile, a cosmetic dentist filed a $25 million lawsuit against the utility, claiming he has lost money and patients because of the steam pipe blast. Dr. Bruce Haber says he has not been able to get into his 25th-floor office across the street from Grand Central Terminal since the explosion.

His lawyer, Alan Schnurman, said the lawsuit accuses Con Ed of “negligence to the point of gross recklessness.”

Last Monday, a woman filed a negligence suit in Brooklyn against Con Ed, saying the utility failed to maintain the ruptured steam pipe properly. Francine Dorf says she was in a building on East 42nd Street when the pipe exploded.

“I thought a building was going to collapse,” said Dorf, a legal secretary whose lawsuit claims she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and asks unspecified damages.

Dorf’s sister, Maria La Vache, was an employee of insurance giant Marsh & McLennan and was on the 99th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Her body was never recovered.

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