Seconds later, 19-year-old David Byers was engulfed in flames and burned to death. "This was a horrific accident and who knows how long he was on fire," says attorney Stewart Eisenberg. "The station was unmanned and we won't know everything until we see the surveillance tapes."
The cause of the fire, according to the coroner and the police department investigation, was a static electricity discharge. It is believed that Byers began filling the tank and then opened the door to retrieve something. When he returned to continue fueling the tank a static electricity discharge sparked the fire.
It is a rare but not unheard of accident that has happened many times before, according to Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) statistics. Reading from the PEI reports, attorney Eisenberg says, "There have been 174 incidents reported to PEI; these are fires at refueling sites that appear to be static electricity related."
"There have been hundreds of reports of these types of accidents but very little publicity," says Eisenberg. "And some incidents include several models of Toyota vehicles."
A wrongful death suit filed by Eisenberg on behalf of Byer's mother alleges that both Toyota Motor Corporation and BP Oil Company share responsibility for the accident-– in Toyota's case by failing to warn consumers about the dangers and failing to make design changes that would prevent these kinds of accidents.
"The material of these Toyota seats are made with low grade fabric that is susceptible to creating a static charge," says Eisenberg. "Toyota knows this phenomenon exists and in fact it made an after market part to discharge static electricity from your car that can be put on the inside of the door."
Regarding BP, Eisenberg says there was nobody on duty at the BP station to turn off the pumps or try to rescue Byer, which has happened when other incidents like this have occurred. Eisenberg points out that is against state regulations and something that BP was likely aware of.
In fact, an inspection after the accident found the BP station to be in violation of at least 20 Flammable and Combustible Liquids regulations including a failure to post warning signs about the dangers of static electricity and the need to stay at the pump while filling your tank.
"This is an accident that never should have happened," says Eisenberg. "And we don't want this to ever happen to anyone again."
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Stewart Eisenberg is the founder and senior partner with Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck. He has represented victims of catastrophic injuries and death for almost 30 years. Always working on the side of the plaintiff, Eisenberg has won numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. He has been recognized as one of the country's top lawyers on several occasions. He has authored many articles and is sought after as a guest speaker.