Minnehaha Academy explosion lawsuit filed by receptionist's family

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Family members of the woman killed in the natural gas explosion at Minnehaha Academy Upper School in August are filing a wrongful death lawsuit against CenterPoint Energy and Master Mechanical Inc.

Ruth Berg, a receptionist at the school, died on Aug. 2 when the part of the building exploded after workers from Master Mechanical were working on the gas meters.

Brittany Bergstrom and JoAnn Fricano, Berg's daughter and mother, are suing the companies on the belief CenterPoint and Master Mechanical's negligence led to her death.

“I think this is about as egregious as possible," said Fred Pritzker, the attorney representing Berg's family. "This is a textbook no-no. You shut off the gas. You make sure the gas line is shut off.”

According court documents, at the time of the explosion, two Master Mechanical workers were installing new piping for two gas meters. While removing the old piping, a full-flow natural gas line at pressure was opened. Master Mechanical was completing the work as part of CenterPoint's plan to move the meters outside for easier access. 

The lawsuit says the school workers "had no idea such highly-dangerous work was being performed" and neither CenterPoint or Master Mechanical told the school about "the high degree of danger posed by the abnormally dangerous activities being conducted within the building."

Documents claim the workers did not safely close the shut-off valves and CenterPoint did not install an Excess Flow Valve which would have decreased the risk of a deadly gas release.

“There was some horrible and obvious mistakes made including the fact that gas upstream from where the explosions occurred was not shut off before the piping was disconnected,” said Pritzker.

The suit also says the workers "ran to save themselves" and "ignored the safety of others" when they realized the building had become unsafe.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported a school maintenance worker told people evacuate from the school.

Berg and longtime custodian John Carlson died in the explosion. Nine other people were injured.

Statement from Master Mechanical:

“We are reviewing the litigation and will respond accordingly. Out of respect for the various ongoing investigations, we will not be discussing the details at this time. We continue to actively cooperate with all state, local and federal agencies investigating this tragic event.

We ask that you continue to keep in your thoughts and prayers all those affected by the incidents.”

Statement from CenterPoint Energy

“CenterPoint will respond to these allegations within the legal process”