January 7, 2013

Oakland man sues MaineGeneral, Manchester for burns suffered in explosion

Edward T. Bishop, 34, suffered second- and third-degree burns in the April 10 explosion that occurred as he attempted to cut the old fuel tank in half with a gas-powered saw

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

An Oakland man who suffered serious burns last spring when the fuel tank he was cutting exploded in his face is suing the hospital that owned the Manchester property, and the town.

click image to enlarge

Firefighters extinguish flames from a chemical storage tank in Manchester, which erupted when Edward T. Bishop, 34, of Oakland, cut into the tank, burning him seriously, on April 10. Bishop is suing MaineGeneral Medical Center and the town of Manchester over the incident.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

Edward T. Bishop, 34, argues his work on the property should have been supervised. He is seeking unspecified damages from MaineGeneral Medical Center and the town of Manchester as well as Code Enforcement Officer Paul Mitnik.

Bishop, in a complaint filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, claims negligence on the part of the town and hospital set up the circumstances that led to his injuries when the fuel tank ignited.

"Defendants negligently failed to designate hazardous materials, which required specialized handling and disposal, which the plaintiff was unqualified to handle," Bishop's attorney, Peter Clifford, wrote in the complaint.

Bishop suffered second- and third-degree burns in the April 10 explosion that occurred as he attempted to cut the old fuel tank in half with a gas-powered saw. According to a contract he signed in February with MaineGeneral Retirement Community, Bishop was hired to remove tires, metals, tanks and other debris from property the hospital owns on Foye Road in Manchester. The property is off Granite Hill Road, right near the Hallowell border, and abuts Granite Hill Estates, MaineGeneral's retirement village. It was used as a junkyard by a previous owner.

Following the afternoon explosion, Bishop was taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and then transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he remained for more than a week.

Bishop's complaint claims he was clearing the property in advance of MaineGeneral's planned construction project. He says Manchester Code Enforcement Officer Paul Mitnik visited the site with Bishop last January and "inspected the premises and directed (Bishop) to remove materials on the premises that were hazardous."

Bishop claims Mitnik, the town and MaineGeneral failed to thoroughly inspect the site and warn Bishop that he would encounter flammable materials, such as the old fuel tank.

"As a result of the unreasonably dangerous premises, and the negligence and fault of the defendants, (Bishop) suffered severe and permanent injuries," the suit alleges.

Clifford on Monday declined comment on the lawsuit, and MaineGeneral's attorney, Jonathan Brogan, did not return a call seeking comment.

Attorney Edward Benjamin, who represents Manchester and Mitnik, said his clients had little to do with the cleanup.

"The basic defense of Mr. Mitnik and the town is this was not property owned or controlled by the town," Benjamin said. "The allegation that Mr. Mitnik was supervising the work -- they vehemently deny."

Brogan, in court documents, denies Bishop's claims of negligence and says Bishop's contract protects MaineGeneral from responsibility.

"The negligence of (Bishop) is greater than or equal to any negligence of (MaineGeneral)," Brogan wrote.

The contract Bishop signed specifies that he was working independently from the hospital and says that neither Bishop nor his employees were subject to direct supervision. The contract indemnifies MaineGeneral against any "claims, actions, damages or other liability."

Further, the contract says Bishop "understands and acknowledges that hazardous material may be contained in and upon the debris and the premises" and that he "accepts and assumes all risks that may arise out of ... coming into contact with or removing any hazardous material."

The contract specifies that the hazardous waste may include petroleum.

Benjamin said Mitnik's only visit to the site, last January, coincided with an assessment by workers from the state Department of Environmental Protection. He said the lawsuit against the town is built on the premise that Mitnik failed to specifically warn Bishop about the old fuel tank during that visit.

"Somehow that's the town's fault," Benjamin said.

Bishop's interaction with Kennebec County Superior Court extends beyond the lawsuit.

Oakland police arrested Bishop on Thursday on a warrant charging him with failure to pay restitution on a 2011 conviction for receiving stolen property. Bishop was released the next day after appearing in Superior Court and being given more time to repay nearly $1,000 in restitution, according to court records.

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642
ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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