Woman’s Family Receives $8 Million Settlement

Woman’s Family Receives $8 Million Settlement

Puget Sound Energy, the largest utility in Washington, has agreed to pay more than $8 million to the family of a woman killed in a natural gas explosion that occurred in her Bellevue home.

Frances Schmitz, a 68-year-old woman, died three weeks after a gas leak ignited an explosion that left her with critical burns and destroyed her home.

Her family sued PSE in March 2005, alleging that the utility was negligent in leaving the leak unchecked. The lawsuit was dismissed last month when Schmitz’s children decided to settle for a little more than $8 million on the condition that the company commit itself to preventing similar accidents.

The settlement covered both personal injury and property damage.

PSE did not admit fault as part of the settlement but did agree to check tens of thousands of gas pipes across Western Washington.

State regulators initially attributed the explosion to a miswired electrical device called a rectifier. PSE paid a $90,000 penalty to the state for the miswired device. Regulators later found that the rectifier had little or no bearing on the explosion.

Corrosion of the pipes was eventually cited as the cause of the explosion. Over the past year, PSE has voluntarily replaced hundreds of steel pipes with non-corroding pipes in the neighborhood where Schmitz lived. 

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