Gas Station Burn Victim Gets Go-Ahead to Press for Punitive Damages Against Circle K and Shell Oil

A Palm Beach Deputy Sheriff severely injured in a fuel fire that broke out at a Marathon, Florida Circle K gas station will now be able to pursue punitive damages against Circle K Stores and the Shell Oil Corporation. Upon careful review of pre-trial evidence gathered by burn victim Richard Ragali’s attorney, a Monroe County Circuit judge has found enough evidence of conscious disregard by the fuel companies for the life and safety of their customers to entitle Ragali to add a claim for punitive damages to the lawsuit he filed.

The October 2, 2012 Sun Sentinel recounted, the 2009 incident that disfigured and disabled Ragali: While motorcycling his way to Key West in the company of other off-duty police officers, Ragali stopped at a Circle K station at 11100 Overseas Highway in order to refuel. As Ragali pulled his motorcycle up to one of the station’s fuel pumps, his bike slid on a standing puddle of gasoline, and within seconds, Ragali’s body was engulfed in flames. Either the bike’s hot exhaust pipe, or fumes coming from the pipe, made contact with the gasoline, and the resulting flash of fire instantly incinerated Ragali’s trunk, buttocks, right arm, and right leg. Six weeks at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital could not restore Ragali to function sufficient to enable him to return to duty, and Ragali currently remains disabled and unemployed.


Evidence of Gross Neglect Opens the Door to Weighty Punitive Damages

Ragali’s attorney has been able to obtain statements from 11 customers of the Marathon Circle K who report that prior to Ragali’s injury, they warned Circle K management that the very pump that Ragali approached was spilling fuel. According to these witnesses (two of whom were identified, in the Sun Sentinel, to be professional firefighters), management did not shut down the leaky pump. Instead they dealt with the hazard by continuously applying cat litter to the fuel accumulating on the ground. Gratified that punitive damages will now be possible for this pattern of conduct, Ragali’s attorney told the Sentinel Sun that this “is an example, a particularly sickening example, of a defendant that valued profits over people,” and that “absent punitive damages, Circle K and Shell could view Mr. Ragali’s case as just another cost of doing business.”
The Many Hazards Encountered on Gas Station Premises

In meantime, gas stations remain dangerous places to be, and caution is advised anytime one has to do business at one of these facilities. In addition to catastrophic burn injuries like those suffered by Richard Ragali, leaky pumps and defective gas nozzles can cause toxic vapor inhalation. Slick surfaces at gas stations may cause slip-and-fall injuries, and broken pavement or asphalt near gas pumps and in parking areas can cause trips and falls. Gas stations are prime territory for collisions between vehicles and for injuries to pedestrians caused by vehicles maneuvering in the small spaces that separate gas pumps. Fraught with all these accident-inviting hazards, gas stations also remain infamous for attracting criminal activity that too often harms not only the personnel managing a station but also unsuspecting and highly vulnerable customers just passing through.

The attorneys at Gerson and Schwartz have the broad experience needed for addressing the wide range of injuries that may occur on the premises of gas stations, and they are experienced in handling the unique issues that arise when such injuries involve severe burns. For information on how we can assist if you are dealing with the aftermath of a gas station injury, please call (305) 371-6000, or e-mail info@gslawusa.com.

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