Federal investigators are refusing to turn over evidence related to a fatal food truck explosion in Philadelphia, truck rental giant U-Haul has alleged in a lawsuit claiming improperly withheld evidence is central to a products liability litigation pending in Philadelphia.
U-Haul was sued in the wake of the 2014 explosion over alleged defects in propane tanks it supplied. The rental company, which is facing several lawsuits in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, sued the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation seeking access to the evidence. U-Haul’s lawsuit alleges that the agencies’ refusal to turn over the evidence is arbitrary, and goes against federal disclosure regulations.
“[U-Haul International and U-Haul Co. of Pennsylvania] needs this evidence and information to understand precisely what caused the incident; without it, they are unable to defend themselves fully against the claims at issue in the state litigation, and the court’s ability to adjudicate the state litigation will be impaired,” the complaint, filed by William Consovoy of Consovoy McCarthy Park, said.
The underlying products liability litigation stems from a food truck explosion that occurred July 1, 2014, in North Philadelphia.
The plaintiffs in those cases sued U-Haul over allegations that it failed to properly inspect a more than 65-year-old propane tank that allegedly caused the explosion. The tank, according to the allegations, was manufactured in 1948, and had never been inspected. The plaintiffs alleged U-Haul was negligent for refilling the tank even though there were no markings showing the tank had been recently recertified for safety.
The two women who died in the explosion were Olga Galdamez, the truck owner, and her daughter, Jaylin Steffany Landaverry Galdamez.
The suits were brought by the family of the two deceased women and nine persons who said they were injured in the blast.
U-Haul’s complaint against the federal agencies said the state court litigation is set to begin trial in June, and expert disclosures are due the first weeks of February and April.
The company, according to the 21-page complaint, is seeking access to the propane cylinders that were on the truck at the time of the explosion, security videos of the food truck, and depositions of any federal agents who investigated the incident.
According to the complaint, U-Haul began requesting access to the evidence in April 2016. Over the past several months, U-Haul sent numerous letters and made several requests for meetings to discuss the reason behind the refusal to turn over the evidence, the complaint said.
“Defendants, however, have continued to stonewall and to provide no assistance to [U-Haul],” the company said in the complaint. “Indeed, one assistant U.S. attorney made clear in a meeting that the plaintiffs’ state litigation was unrelated to the government’s investigation and was not her concern.”
Consovoy declined to comment about pending litigation. Press inquiries to the DOJ and DOT were not immediately returned Tuesday.