A bright red propane cylinder is pictured situation on the back of a forklift.
After a set jury date, parties filed to dismiss product liability case ‘without prejudice’

One important use of propane is as a fuel for forklift vehicles used in factories, warehouses and other facilities. Propane distributors often install dispensing equipment at such locations and train customer personnel to safely fill forklift cylinders on-site. Unfortunately, despite the best equipment and training, accidents happen and lawsuits often follow.

A recent Arkansas lawsuit provides an example. Since the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff a year after it was filed, the only public record of the facts comes from the complaint filed by the plaintiff and the answer filed by the defendant. The case is Beck v. AmeriGas Propane.

Dispensing Station

Carly Beck was an employee at the Cooper Tire & Rubber plant in Texarkana, Arkansas. Among other things, she drove a propane-fueled forklift and was responsible for filling the propane cylinder on the forklift from time to time. There was a propane dispensing station at the Cooper Tire plant, and this was apparently installed by AmeriGas, which allegedly also supplied propane to the station.


On March 29, 2022, Beck needed to fill the cylinder on her forklift. She drove the forklift to the dispensing station and alleges that she had commenced the fill operation when a fire broke out. In the lawsuit that she subsequently filed against AmeriGas, she claimed that as she “was preparing to connect the refueling hose to her forklift, a fire ignited.” Her complaint in the lawsuit continues with the following allegation:

“Such fire was caused, in whole or in part, by the failure of the handle, hose, couplings or other parts of the refueling station such that they allowed pressurized propane to flow from the handle, couplings or hose despite it not being connected to the forklift or the refueling station not having been turned ‘on’ by the plaintiff [Beck].”

Uncontrolled Flow

It appears Beck was filling the cylinder while it was on the forklift, and she specifically alleged that she had not yet attached the fill hose connector to the cylinder. She also alleged propane was released from the “hose, handle and/or connecting device.” So, according to Beck, it didn’t come from the cylinder or the dispensing station tank. Beck claimed that, although she had not activated the pump at the dispensing station, the dispensing system “allowed pressurized propane to flow into the hose.”

In essence, she was claiming there was propane in the dispensing hose when she began the process of filling the forklift cylinder, and that this was improper. (Not true, as liquid propane typically remains in the fill hose after a fill is completed and the hose is returned to its storage location.) Finally, she claimed that the dispensing station allowed “uncontrolled flow of propane” and “failed to shut off the flow of propane,” even though the hose was not connected to the forklift cylinder and the pump was not activated.

Laundry List

Beck claimed that all of this was the result of negligence on the part of AmeriGas. Her complaint sets forth a 15-count laundry list of claims, including setting up a “defective and unreasonably dangerous” dispensing station; improper design of the station; failure to include proper safety features; failure to inspect and test the station; and, of course, failure to “provide adequate warnings.” She repeated pretty much the same laundry list to assert a claim of strict product liability under the Arkansas Products Liability Act.

Beck claimed damages because of the incident. She said she was hospitalized with “significant burns to her face, shoulders, back, buttocks [and] legs” and required “painful medical treatment and procedures,” resulting in “scarring and disfigurement.” She alleged that she had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a loss of earnings and earning ability.

Insufficient Knowledge

AmeriGas, of course, denied these allegations. While it categorically denied the claims of negligence and strict product liability, it asserted that it lacked sufficient knowledge to admit or deny the specific allegations about how the accident happened. This is not unusual, given that the record does not indicate that AmeriGas was notified of the incident when it happened or that AmeriGas was able to investigate the incident.

Of note, however, is that AmeriGas asserted it lacked sufficient knowledge to admit or deny it set up the dispensing station at the Cooper Tire plant or delivered propane to that station. This may have been an overcautious action by AmeriGas’ attorney, but it raises the possibility that Beck sued the wrong company and that another propane distributor set up and serviced the station at the Cooper Tire plant.

Unanswered Questions

On Sept. 28, the court entered a scheduling order that, among other things, set June 24, 2024, as the date for a jury trial. Not long after that, the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal of the lawsuit “without prejudice.” That means Beck would be free to re-file her suit against AmeriGas, or perhaps others (including possibly another propane distributor).

Such a dismissal is somewhat unusual. Perhaps Beck reached a confidential settlement with AmeriGas, but this is not likely since such settlements are usually accompanied by a dismissal “with prejudice.” Or perhaps Beck saw the error of her ways and decided not to pursue the lawsuit. Or maybe she realized she had the wrong defendant and planned to re-file the suit against someone else.

In any event, the early dismissal of the suit before any significant discovery or investigation leaves open several questions regarding Beck’s allegations:

  • Was there in fact some defect or leak in the hose end fitting that caused propane to leak out of the hose end before she connected it to the forklift cylinder?
  • Did she activate the hose end valve to cause a release of propane before making a connection?
  • Was the dispensing station pump in the “off” position at the time of the incident?
  • Was there liquid propane in the fill hose at the time of the incident?
  • Did she forego wearing any personal protective equipment such as gloves or face protection that may have minimized her injuries?
  • Did she ignore any part of the training that she received to undertake a fill operation such as this?

Unless the lawsuit is refiled, which Beck does have the right to do, these questions will remain unanswered. However, these questions — as well as the multiple allegations made by Beck — serve as guideposts for assessing the exposure that propane distributors face when they install and service propane dispensing stations at customer locations.

David Schlee is of counsel to The McCarthy Law Firm P.C. He may be reached at david@mokpclaw.com.


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