Historic settlement for victims of Philly food truck explosion

Legal representatives of the victims of a fatal propane tank explosion at Third and Wyoming streets in Philadelphia in July 2014 discuss a $160 million settlement. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Legal representatives of the victims of a fatal propane tank explosion at Third and Wyoming streets in Philadelphia in July 2014 discuss a $160 million settlement. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Less than a week before the case was set to go to trial, the victims of a 2014 food truck explosion in North Philadelphia have settled out of court for $160 million, plus an additional confidential sum. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Wednesday it’s the largest pretrial settlement in Pennsylvania state court history.

U-Haul and other defendants will pay the family of the mother and daughter who died in the massive July 1 blast, as well two unnamed minors who were severely burned when an outdated propane tank used for cooking ruptured and engulfed the truck in flames in the Feltonville section of the city.

“They expected and relied upon U-Haul to fill those tanks safely, and, if there was something wrong with the tanks, to let them know. There was a lot wrong with these tanks,” said attorney Alan Feldman, who represents the family.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys said Miguel Rivera, general manager at one of U-Haul’s stores in Philadelphia, repeatedly filled two 70-year-old tanks, which also lacked safety valves required by the federal government. They also say Rivera repeatedly overfilled the tanks, leaving no room for the gas to expand inside the steel containers on a hot day.

It was 93 degrees when the tank aboard La Paradilla Chapina — named for a traditional Guatemalan dish — split apart near Third Street and Wyoming Avenue.

“You have rapidly expanding fuel with ignition sources, which is the perfect recipe for a massive explosion and fireball,” said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who represents one of the minors.

“Alex Doe,” one of the injured minors, will receive $69.17 million after sustaining extensive third-degree burns that will require a lifetime of medical procedures, including plastic surgery.

“Jane Doe,” the other injured minor, will receive $54.35 million.

The family of the mother and daughter — the food truck’s owner Olga Galdamez and her 17-year-old daughter, Jaylin — will receive $36.47 million.

In a statement, U-Haul spokesman Sebastien Reyes said “the continued sympathies of everyone at U-Haul Co. of Pennsylvania are with the individuals and families,” but adds that the company “did not fill the propane cylinder involved in this tragedy,” although an employee of one of its subsidiaries allegedly did.

While the company has denied liability, it has “intensified the educational material” required for any employees who dispense propane, and it has begun “working toward all U-Haul system locations filling propane cylinders by weight,” considered a safer method than filling them by volume.

One week before the civil settlement was announced, a criminal case began in federal court. Last week, federal prosecutors charged the U-Haul Company of Pennsylvania, a subsidiary, and Rivera with violating hazardous materials regulations.

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