BONITA SPRINGS — Nearly a year and a half after a gas line explosion severely burned a machine operator's body, the man continues recovering at his Bonita Springs home while legal battles continue in court and before a workplace safety agency.
Mario Santos was a Posen Construction employee at the time of the Nov. 11, 2010, accident during the widening of Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers. He was operating a bulldozer that hit an 8-inch natural gas line belonging to TECO People's Gas, burning Santos and causing a major natural gas outage in Southwest Florida.
Santos filed an amended version of his lawsuit in March in Lee Circuit Court. He sued Tampa Electric Co., Johnson Engineering Inc. and Posen Construction Inc. The suit alleges damages on five counts, including negligence, failure to maintain a safe workplace, failure to verify whether an inspection of the work site was conducted and failing to maintain gas line markers at the work site and before starting construction.
The suit seeks more than $15,000 in damages, the minimum to get it into circuit court, plus interest, costs and attorney's fees.
Santos, 26, of Bonita Springs, whose skin continues recovering from the burns, was contacted at his home for this story but declined to comment because of the pending suit.
"We would like to make the client as whole as we can," said his attorney, Jeanette Lewis of the Haggard Law Firm.
Lewis said 75 percent to 90 percent of Santos' body was burned in the gas explosion. He sustained second- and third-degree burns to a majority of his body in a natural gas explosion, the suit states.
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"He will never be the same," Lewis said.
She said Santos still has tremendous physical limitations as a result of the injuries from the explosion. Today, Santos, who isn't working, cannot fully extend his arms.
"The lawsuit is in its early stages," said Cherie Jacobs, a TECO spokeswoman. "We are in the process of reviewing the latest complaint."
After completing a federal investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Posen Construction for violations in March 2011. The agency didn't cite TECO, just Posen.
OSHA fined Posen $70,000, the maximum fine allowed for failing to call or take other precautions before digging — a willful violation of safety standards.
As is its right, Posen Construction is contesting its citations before the independent OSHA Review Commission, said Michael Wald, OSHA's regional director office of public affairs in Atlanta.
No date has been set yet for the hearing, Wald said.
Neither Posen Construction officials, nor their attorney, Kevin Crews of Wicker, Smith, O'Hara, McCoy & Ford in Naples, could be reached for comment.
The explosion caused a loss of natural gas service for about 6,000 residential and 1,200 commercial customers in Lee and Collier counties. That led to a separate class-action lawsuit against TECO People's Gas and Posen Construction, filed on Nov. 24, 2011, in Lee Circuit Court on behalf of Collier and Lee businesses that lost money due to the explosion knocking out service.
A judge has dismissed the claim against TECO, but not against Posen. The plaintiffs have refiled against TECO but TECO has, again, asked to have it dismissed, Jacobs said.
TECO officials have remained adamant that Posen Construction could have avoided the explosion by listening to TECO officials' warnings not to dig in an area where gas line markers were missing, according to previous Daily News reports.
GAS LINE EXPLOSION - MULTIMEDIA
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- Video: TECO discusses plan for gas restoration
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- Family of victim shoulders true burden of gas line explosion
- TECO official: Backup to prevent future gas outages not likely in near future
- TECO shifts focus to restoring gas to Collier residents
- Staying safe: Fire officials worried about propane, outdoor grills at restaurants
- Gas outage update: Many back in business
- Gas explosion victim, Bonita Springs soccer star, critical in Tampa hospital
- Room service: Hotels struggle to keep guests happy during gas outage
- Natural disaster: Gas outages cause financial setbacks, cold showers
- Can businesses collect lost revenue from gas line break?
- Restaurants improvise kitchens, menus during gas outage
- Some businesses gain as others scramble to avoid loss from gas main break
- 8,000 homes, restaurants without gas
- Restaurants across Southwest Florida shut down due to gas line break in Fort Myers
- Archived Interactive Map: Restaurant openings/closings due to the gas line explosion