Workers Injured In Chemical Plant Explosion Obtain $30 Million Verdicts In Two Louisiana State Court Trials Against Plant Owners/Operators
On June 13, 2013, an explosion occurred at the Williams Geismar chemical plant near Baton Rouge, LA. The explosion, caused by an over-pressurized reboiler, resulted in the deaths of two people and injuries to hundreds of others. The plant, owned by Williams Olefins LLC and co-owned by SABIC Petrochemicals Holdings US, Inc., was undergoing a $400,000,000 expansion project spearheaded by Williams Companies, Inc. As a result of the expansion, nearly 1,000 contract laborers were temporarily at the plant at the time of the explosion.
On June 28, 2013, Bryan Cotton and a number of other people injured in the explosion filed a negligence suit in the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Iberville Parish, Louisiana. Plaintiffs asserted that the explosion resulted from defendants’ negligence and that they suffered injuries when they were forced to run for their lives from the explosion.
The case was broken into two different groups of parties for trial, and the first trial concerned the claims of contract workers Shawn Thomas, Christopher Devall, Eduardo Elizondo, and Michael Dantone. Following a trial in September 2016, the jury found in favor of plaintiffs, finding Williams Companies, Inc. 95% liable and Williams Olefins 3% liable. At trial, plaintiffs established that there had been numerous audits and safety meetings to address the hazards associated with the reboiler that were not properly addressed; that defendants knew that the safer option was to shut the plant down for a few months for construction, then reopen the plant once construction was complete but failed to do so; and that defendants knew with substantial certainty that a devastating event would reoccur. The jury awarded the four plaintiffs a combined verdict of $13,679,933.53, with an additional $1,778,409.79 in prejudgment interest, for a total award of $15,458,434.32.
A second trial as to the claims of contract workers Bryan Cotton, Paul Thompson, Veronica Sowell, and Dakota Kelley was scheduled for late 2016. Cotton had suffered a back and neck injury, which required surgery, in the explosion. Thompson suffered head and neck injuries that required surgery. Sowell suffered back, neck and shoulder injuries that required surgery, and Kelley suffered an ankle injury that required surgery. All four plaintiffs also suffered psychological injuries including post-traumatic stress disorder. Defendants claimed that plaintiffs were exaggerating their symptoms and that their injuries were preexisting in nature or otherwise not caused by the explosion. Defendants argued that Kelley had returned to work and was not injured in the incident.
The day before trial began, the Williams defendants stipulated to liability and waived all legal defenses. SABIC maintained it had nothing to do with the explosion, and trial proceeded to determine SABIC's liability and to assign fault among the parties. A three-week trial was held in October and November 2016. On Nov. 15, 2016, the jury found that all defendants were liable for plaintiffs' injuries due to their negligence. The jury apportioned fault at 16% to SABIC for their 1/6 ownership of the plant and found that SABIC knew with substantial certainty that the explosion would occur. The jury awarded the plaintiffs a combined verdict of $16,116,977.86 plus $2,417,545.14 in prejudgment interest for a total award of $18,534,523.00.
Plaintiffs were represented by Kurt B. Arnold, Kyle Findley, and Kara F. Sellers of Arnold & Itkin, LLP, and A.M. "Tony" Clayton, Michael P. Fruge, and Richard J. Ward of Clayton, Fruge & Ward. Defendants were represented by Glenn M. Farnet, James P. Dore, Katie D. Bell, Lana Crump, Bradley C. Myers, and Randy R. Cangelosi of Kean Miller, LLP; James M. Reed and Kelly C. Comarda of Hall Estill; Michael S. Walsh and Erin Kinney of Taylor Porter, LLP; Don Fowler and Matthew Malinowski of Hollingsworth LLP; and David Melancon of Irwin, Fritche, Urquhart & Moore LLC.
Lexis Advance subscribers may view the entire summary here: Paul Thompson, et al. v. Williams Companies, Inc., et al. (Cotton, Thompson, Sowell and Kelley Verdict); 2016 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 9012.
For all your jury verdict and settlement needs, please visit the LexisNexis Jury Verdicts and Settlements on Lexis Advance® and LexisNexis® Verdict & Settlement Analyzer.
For more information about LexisNexis products and solutions connect with us through our corporate site.