Attorneys Kurt Arnold, Kyle Findley, and Kala Sellers won a verdict totaling $15,458,434.32 on behalf of four injured contract workers involved in the Williams Geismar plant explosion in Louisiana on June 13, 2013. The plant was undergoing a $400 million expansion project. The CEO and board of directors elected to do construction while it remained in live operation. Everyone agrees the safer option was to shut down the plant for a few months during the construction and then reopen; however, the CEO and board of directors overruled the major concerns and decided to operate the plant despite the increased risk.
At the time of the explosion, the contract laborers were working on the expansion project when a reboiler over-pressured and caused an explosion that could be seen for miles. When the blast occurred, all four contract workers were injured and forced to run for their lives; they suffered both physical and psychological injuries as a result. Throughout the litigation process, the Defendants tried to assert various defenses such as blaming a shell company that was a limited liability company that otherwise would not be responsible to pay. The Arnold & Itkin attorneys used their vast resources and knowledge of plant operations to develop the case, and were able to obtain hundreds of thousands of pages of internal documents to discover that a pressure relief valve on a reboiler was not opened.
Despite numerous audits and safety meetings aimed to address the hazards associated with the isolated reboiler, it was never completed. Dedicated to bring justice to the injured workers, the attorneys discovered facts to support that the Defendants knew with "substantial certainty" that a devastating event would occur, which is one of the few exceptions to the workers’ compensation bar to recovery. The attorneys also discovered that the parent company, Williams Companies, Inc., were the real employers of all personnel and otherwise maintained control over the managers at the plant.
At trial, the Defendants tried to hide behind the statutory employer defense and place all of the blame on the holding company of the plant, Williams Olefins LLC. After 3 weeks of trial the jury was not convinced by the Defendants' shell games and awarded a judgment in the Plaintiffs' favor.
The jury rightly assigned 95% of the responsibility for the explosion to the Tulsa-based Williams Companies, Inc. and only 3% to the holding company, Williams Olefins, LLC. The jury also found that the Williams Companies, Inc. and Williams Olefins LLC both knew with "substantial certainty" that the devastating event would occur. In addition, the jury also found that the plant managers responsible for the explosion were actually employees of Williams Companies, Inc. and were not employees of Williams Olefins, LLC as the Defendants claimed, which defeated any defense to recovery.
The jury awarded Shawn Thomas $9.4 million, Christopher Devall $3.6 million, and Eduardo Elizondo and Michael Danton $360,000 and $205,000, respectively. The award of $13,679,933.53, with $1,778,409.79 in pre-judgment interest, brings the total award to $15,458,434.32 for the four injured workers. Arnold & Itkin was proud to represent these four men along with Clayton, Fruge, and Ward in a series of upcoming trials of nearly one hundred workers that Arnold & Itkin represent. The case was filed in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, with the Honorable Elizabeth Engolio presiding as judge.
"We spent more than $10 million of our own firm’s money to ensure that our clients got the very best recovery and were taken care of. That’s what we did, and that’s what we do."- Kurt Arnold