Plant Explosion Lawyers
Plant Fires, Refinery Accidents & Factory Explosions
There have been more deaths from chemical and gas explosions in the U.S. than in another country.
Though it might not seem as though these explosions occur often, plant workers are at risk of explosions every day, and when they do happen, the effects are devastating. The force of the blast often kills those standing close to it and severely injures the workers who are further away from it. Survivors of these explosions experience third-degree burns, broken bones, and being crushed under airborne objects and debris.
Plant Explosion Attorneys Serving Clients in Texas, Louisiana & Nationwide
Plant and refineries are a common sight throughout Texas and the nation as a sign of a booming economy and ever-growing industrial sector. Unfortunately, with these numerous facilities, serious accidents can occur—such as explosions, fires, and other catastrophic incidents. Take, for example, the 2005 explosion in Texas City, or the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Both of these were catastrophic.
Workers in the industrial industry face potential dangers every day. Unfortunately, the U.S. has the highest number of deaths resulting from plant explosions. Studies have shown that the heat emitted from refinery explosions can be over 1,000 degrees. For those who work at locations such as fertilizer plants, the threat of a fire or explosion is a constant reality. If you or a loved one were injured in a plant explosion, the injuries, and disabilities that result could be life-altering. In many cases, the accident is so severe that workers do not survive the blast and subsequent fires.
It is absolutely critical you have your case looked at by a plant and refinery explosion lawyer that you can trust. At Arnold & Itkin, our Houston plant explosion lawyers represent clients in Texas, Louisiana, and nationwide. Call (888) 493-1629 now to schedule your free consult.
Plants & Refineries in Texas
The following are some of the plants throughout Texas, many of which have seen refinery accidents:
- Baytown Refinery (ExxonMobil), Baytown
- Big Spring Refinery (Delek), Big Spring
- Beaumont Refinery (ExxonMobil), Beaumont
- Borger Refinery (WRB Refining LP by Phillips 66/Cenovus), Borger
- Corpus Christi Complex (Flint Hills Resources), Corpus Christi
- Corpus Christi Refinery (Citgo), Corpus Christi
- Corpus Christi East & West Refinery (Valero), Corpus Christi
- Deer Park Refinery (Shell Oil Company), Deer Park
- El Paso Refinery (Western Refining), El Paso
- Galveston Bay Refinery (Marathon Petroleum Co), Texas City
- Houston Refinery (Lyondell), Houston
- Houston Refinery (Valero), Houston
- Independent Refinery (Stratnor), Houston
- McKee Refinery (Valero), Sunray
- Nixon Refinery (Blue Dolphin) Nixon
- Pasadena Refinery (Petrobras), Pasadena
- Port Arthur Refinery (Total), Port Arthur
- Port Arthur Refinery (Motiva Enterprises), Port Arthur
- Port Arthur Refinery (Valero), Port Arthur
- San Antonio Refinery (Calumet Lubricants), San Antonio
- Sweeny Refinery (Phillips 66), Sweeny
- Texas City Refinery (Valero), Texas City
- Three Rivers Refinery (Valero), Three Rivers
- Tyler Refinery (Delek), Tyler
The following companies also operate refineries in the state of Texas:
- Motiva Enterprises LLC, Port Arthur
- ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Co., Baytown
- Marathon Petroleum Corp., Galveston Bay
- ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Co., Beaumont
$30 Million for Victims of the William Olefins Explosion in Geismar
One June morning in 2013, Williams Olefins' plant in Geismar, LA exploded—killing 2 workers and injuring 167 more. After the fire was extinguished and the investigation could begin, workers came to Arnold & Itkin for help with their recovery. The company was keeping something from the workers, and they knew it was going to be a fight to get Williams Olefins to help them.
The explosion was caused by a reboiler with a dangerous flaw in its valve design: when the input valve was opened (but the output valve was closed), the reboiler tank had no access to its safety release valve. In other words, a simple mistake would immediately turn an enormous tank into a pressurized bomb. That's precisely what happened in June 2013. We immediately started building a case against the company—after all, in the vast majority of these cases, the companies know the risks they subject their workers to far beforehand.
However, what we found was even worse than we thought.
We learned that Williams Olefins knew the risk that specific valve design posed—they had even been warned about it years before the plant exploded. They had multiple opportunities to solve the major safety issue in the valve system. What's worst, the fix would have taken a few dollars and a few minutes to implement. Instead of listening to their experts and creating a fix, however, Williams Olefins let it stay. After all, fixing it might have slowed production down. Despite all this, the company refused to take their workers' claims seriously. Unlike most of our opponents, Williams allowed the case to go before a jury. Their plan was to play a "shell game" with the responsibility by limiting the liability to a child company. However, the jury saw right through it, assigning 98% of the blame to Williams and its parent company.
In our first trial, we secured
$15.45 million for a group of 4 workers. Williams Olefins believed it was a fluke, and
only a few weeks later, we won a
second verdict for another 4 workers—this time for
The company was forced to acknowledge their workers' claims and the cause of the refinery accident at last.
Arnold & Itkin in the News
- Workers Injured in Chemical Plant Explosion Obtain $30 Million Verdicts In Two Louisiana State Court Trials Against Plant Owners/Operators
- CSB: 'Process safety management program deficiencies' lead to deadly 2013 explosion
- New Orleans Jury Awards $16M to 4 Workers for 2013 Plant Explosion
- ComDust victim awarded $39.7 million
- Houston jury awards $39.7 million verdict to a man injured in Corrigan plant explosion
- Williams Cos. Hit With $13.6M Verdict In La. Plant Explosion
Plant & Refinery Fire Attorneys
Plants and oil refineries are job sites where disasters of massive proportions are most likely to occur.
This is due to the inherent dangers of working with certain chemicals and compounds. When refinery accidents happen, they usually aren't small. In fact, they can claim the lives of countless individuals and innocent people can be injured on the job. These types of fires not only result in extensive property damage, but they can cause serious injury. For example, a victim in a fire could suffer from a burn injury ranging from minor to debilitating. Some burn injuries are so severe that limbs have to be amputated; in the most extreme scenarios, these injuries can be fatal.
Repercussions of refinery explosions can include the following:
The reason refinery explosions are so severe is the substances involved are often highly flammable. Take, for example, an oil refinery. For crude oil to be refined, it has to go through a process known as fractioning, which is achieved by heating up a tank to temperatures of up to 400 degrees Celsius so the oil can be divided into different parts. If these pipes or the fractioning chamber leaks, the oil could contact gases and heat that could cause an uncontrollable fire. The same can happen at a chemical plant. Chemicals are highly combustible materials, which means all the machinery at the plant has to be adequately contained for operations to run smoothly. One slight spill or leak could result in a massive flame.
Our Plant Explosion Attorneys Represent Workers Nationwide, Including:
- Texas City
- Corpus Christi
- Port Arthur
- Baton Rouge
- Lake Charles
Common Injuries from Plant Explosions & Fires
The injuries that are sustained in the aftermath of plant and refinery explosions are immense—and often fatal. Many can be incurred from the physical blast itself; however, in some cases, the aftermath is just as deadly.
Some of the most common injuries sustained in explosions and fires include:
The heat that can be created by tragic plant explosions can spike into the thousands of degrees. Exposure to this kind heat—let alone the different chemical present in many plants and refineries—can be the cause of severe burns. Not only are these painful, but they can also result in long-lasting scarring and disfigurement, which is emotionally challenging and psychologically damaging.
This includes injuries to muscles, joints, and ligaments. This can be broken bones, skull fractures, damaged vertebrae, herniated/bulging discs, as well as sprains and strains. Most of these injuries are sustained in the initial blast.
Victims can suffer severe lacerations or cuts from debris falling or exploding. Regardless of whether it is a shallow gash or a deep wound, these can be painful and result in permanent scarring.
Beyond the heat, one of the most dangerous aspects of a plant explosion is the sheer noise. That alone can cause acoustic trauma to those anywhere near the explosion. The noise-induced hearing loss is a real problem, which can be caused by a one-time exposure that damages the hair cells and the auditory nerve. This may result in damage that is either temporary or permanent.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most often referred to in regards to soldiers returning from war, but it has long since been known that those who undergo a traumatic accident—such as an explosion—can experience it as well. This can leave victims to re-live the trauma over and over again, feeling numb to their surroundings, or be "hyper-alert."
When a plant explodes or begins to burn, it causes plumes of smoke to rise into the air and then settle into the low-lying areas surrounding the facility. Inhalation of this smoke is highly dangerous to victims. Not only can it cause immediate symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath, but it can cause long-term effects as well, such as damage to the small airways.
Understanding the Danger of Ammonia & Toxic Exposure
Sometimes, you may not realize the extent of the physical damage you suffered until after the explosion. Chemical plant explosions can result in in internal damage and chemical burns. Per the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, you are exposed to chemicals every day. Not all chemical exposure is harmful; however, overexposure to certain types can lead to internal burns, cancer, and disfigurement. Chemical exposure can damage your respiratory, renal, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Depending on the amount of exposure, your nervous and immune system may suffer as well. After an explosion, it is imperative that you make sure that you have not suffered any damage from chemical exposure.
Common Causes of Industrial Plant & Refinery Explosions
While these sorts of accidents are happening with seemingly more frequency, there is not one answer to what causes them. Depending on the type of plant, the causes of explosions vary. In some cases, it begins as a small flame, such as a cigarette, that quickly spreads out of control. In other cases, employers or employees were negligent in maintaining equipment and machinery.
Below, we explain the common causes of explosions.
1) Malfunctioning Equipment
One cause of explosions is a lack of maintenance, which can lead to serious malfunctions. Plants depend on the functioning of their equipment. If this equipment is not kept up to standards, it can result in catastrophic accidents. This could be anything from boilers, to pressure vessels, to alarms, to storage tanks. Equipment that has weakened or stopped working cannot do its job, and therefore cannot keep workers safe.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set guidelines for businesses to follow. When they failed to uphold these, they can be liable for any injury caused as a result. Machinery commonly seen at plants require intense scrutiny before operations commence. Even the slightest error can lead to an accident of incredible proportions. These types of accidents commonly cause death, not just injury.
Take, for example, the Williams Olefins plant explosion that occurred in Geismar, LA on June 13, 2013. All signs point to the explosion being caused by a "catastrophic failure" of the plant's heat exchanger. In another case, OSHA investigated Connecticut's Kleen Energy Systems plant after an explosion and found more than 400 safety violations. Both of these explosions show us that while some accidents are unavoidable, many could have been prevented through adequately maintaining and updating refinery equipment.
2) Poor Training of Refinery Employees
One cause of explosions is the inadequate training of employees.
Lack of training in operating machinery or using personal protective equipment is a violation of safety regulations. Employers are responsible for providing their employees with the necessary training to avoid accidents, as well as respond accurately should an accident occur. Due to the high risk associated with refinery jobs, it is imperative that all employees are put through a comprehensive training program. Employee training should include education on how to properly operate machinery, handle and store volatile chemicals, and avoid the risk of combustion.
Per the Industrial Skills Training Network, employees should be trained on:
- Safe work habits and safety guidelines
- Chemical safety hazards
- Basic emergency response training
- Preparing hazardous materials for transport
- Working safely with electrical equipment
- Properly reading warning signs and labels
3) Unseen Corrosion
Metal is continually being worn down during everyday processes of a plant or refinery. Unfortunately, due care is not always taken to ensure metal has not weakened and is still performing at its peak. When metal goes unchecked, it can begin to wear down and corrode. In some cases, the surrounding environment can even begin oxidation. Over time, metal is gradually worn down as it reacts to the surrounding environment.
While this is a typical reaction, it can become deadly if it is not noticed and fixed. In some cases, corrosion can be seen by discoloration, but that is not always the case. In fact, unseen corrosion can be so subtle that even highly trained inspectors may miss it—or it may be hidden in a part of a machine that is not easily accessible. When corrosion goes unseen, it will gradually worsen, causing the machine to become increasingly dangerous to use. If the corrosion goes unseen long enough, it can eventually lead to a deadly explosion or a fire.
4) Dirty & Impure Chemicals
The mixture of chemicals is central to most plant operations. To ensure the safety of all employees, there are strict regulations regarding what type and quality of chemicals can be used. When impure or dirty chemicals are used, it can lead to unforeseen and undesirable consequences.
5) Poor Facility Maintenance & Unsafe Working Conditions
Unsafe working conditions are often the cause of many accidents—which means that they could have been avoided. Take, for example, the Texas City refinery explosion. This was one of the worst refinery accidents the U.S. has ever seen, and it was caused by failure to abide by safety regulations. This incident was a record-topping event for safety violations as well as violations for failure to make improvements after the disaster.
One of the most important steps employers can take to protect workers is to maintain their facilities properly. Due to the hazardous material and dangerous equipment on location, accidents are bound to happen if proper maintenance is ignored. Due to the countless refinery explosions over the years, facility maintenance has become a subject of high interest, which has led to the implementation of various federal laws.
Federal law now requires employers to provide employees with proper tools and equipment, as well as training in how to inspect equipment and recognize the need for maintenance. If a refinery is not correctly inspected or cleaned, it is not safe. A disorganized facility can cause malfunctioning equipment, dangerous work environments, chemical reactions, and even leaks or spills, which can lead to catastrophic accidents.
6) Failure to Follow OSHA Guidelines
To regulate industrial workplaces, OSHA has put into place strict regulations that are used to enhance worker safety. Unfortunately, these are not always adhered to. When violations are made, either through intentional or negligent actions, the employees are the ones who suffer. If an employer does not comply with OSHA operating standards, they are not only endangering themselves and their workers but also those who live near the refinery. OSHA standards are created to ensure that the workplace is kept free from hazards and that every possible safeguard is put in place to avoid an accident. When these are knowingly or neglectfully ignored, it can lead to serious refinery explosions and fires.
Some guidelines that should always be complied with:
- Inspecting, testing, and performing preventative maintenance
- Completing a process safety information (PSI) about potential hazards
Aging Plant Equipment Claims
In addition to the above, one of the most common, tragic causes of an explosion is the use of aging equipment. Most plants and refineries have not been renovated since the 1920s or 1930s. Better substances can be used to construct the plant’s equipment, but this would require stopping production for construction, which would drastically halt profit. Rather than stopping to install new equipment, plant owners and manager keep production running, which slowly takes a heavy toll on the equipment and ultimately results in dangerous malfunction. In addition to the old equipment, managers and owners of these plants still use old processes that have been proven hazardous.
More production is being demanded of the same equipment that has been used since the 1920s and 1930s. As our populations get bigger and cities expand, so do does production out of our refineries and plants. This increased demand forces the equipment to work harder than it should, often causing the conditions that make explosions possible. Pressurization, corrosion, and fire hazards make leaks and ignition more likely.
According to Kurt Arnold, many plants have not been updated for half a century, leaving ancient technology still in place. While employers may view this as a shortcut, it endangers workers.
Use of Old, Outdated Equipment in Plants & Refineries
This is not a problem limited to the U.S. In fact, in 2013, former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, slammed the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant for its use of "sub-standard material." According to his criticism, the inferior materials being used at the plant created serious problems and raised alarming safety concerns. In the United States and globally, there is growing alarmed about the risks of using aging equipment in plants and refineries of all kinds—particularly plants handling potentially harmful materials.
According to Mr. Arnold, that is just not acceptable:
"Most plants have not been updated in 50 or 60 years, and most of the equipment that is used is really old equipment. It's old technology. It's things that worked when we otherwise didn't have new technology available, but for whatever reason most companies have decided not to upgrade their plants and not to build new plants."
The Consequences of Ignoring Aging Equipment
The Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and injured nearly 200 in March 2005 was caused by old equipment that failed. According to the reports following the tragedy, the explosion occurred in an isomerization unit where a raffinate splitter had been overfilled with overheated liquid. In the end, there were several causes of the incident, but one that stood out was the failing of equipment which was used in the plant.
In fact, earlier the year of the explosion, Telos had reviewed that plant and found several alarming defects:
- Broken alarms
- Thinning pipe
- Falling concrete
- Excessive fumes
In 2013, a Chevron refinery in California’s Bay Area exploded, spreading crude oil and dangerous fumes into the air. The refinery is the third largest in California, and among the oldest as well; in fact, it has been operating for over a century. It should come as no surprise that the plant is riddled with parts that need replacing, and it frequently suffers from fires and explosions (one of which occurred less than a year before this one).
This particular explosion was caused by a failed pipe that was over 30 years old. It was first installed in the 1970s and was never replaced. A similar issue caused a fire in 2012 at the same plant. That is the issue with problems caused by aging equipment—when a plant is not frequently updated or renovated (to save costs, to limit production interruption, etc.), it is far too easy for catastrophic failure to occur on a frequent basis.
Burn Injuries Due to Plant Explosions
The burn injury lawyers at Arnold & Itkin know how explosion survivors often suffer severe burns thanks to the fuel and volatile chemicals located around chemical plants, oil refineries, and factories. We know how severe burns can run hospital bills up to $100,000 or $200,000 due to the need for high-cost specialists. Our firm knows how petrochemical companies won't help families, even if the company was responsible for the injuries.
Our burn attorneys even know how your insurance company will likely treat you if you try to get them to cover the expenses of treatment. We know because we've helped families walk through this exact situation before. Arnold & Itkin gave those families the resources and guidance they needed to hold wrongdoers accountable in court and get the funds they needed to afford treatment and put food on the table.
If your loved one suffered a burn injury in a plant explosion, you deserve to know what happens next. Call us so we can review your options and tell you what you need to know.
The BP Texas City Explosion
On March 23, 2005, Texas City was rocked when the BP refinery exploded, killing 15 workers and injuring more than 170 others. At the time of the incident, the refinery was the second largest oil refinery in the Lone Star State and the third largest in the entire nation. The explosion became the center of a national controversy due to the numerous failings which came to the national stage during subsequent investigations.
These failures included the following:
- Cost-cutting that led to safety hazards;
- Failure to properly invest in safe infrastructure;
- Poor corporate oversight;
- Lack of focus on safety;
- Improper training of employees and operators;
- Flawed communication; and
- Use of outdated equipment.
Since the explosion, BP has been faced with criminal charges, as well as several civil lawsuits brought forward by the families of those who were killed in the accident. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) even slapped BP with a record-breaking fine, and later hit them with an even larger one because, despite the devastating events of March 23, BP had still failed to implement better policies & procedures.
At Arnold & Itkin LLP, we worked with several of the workers who were injured at that refinery and sought to help them recover just financial compensation. By working on that case, we saw first-hand what happened when corporations place an emphasis on profit instead of employee safety: disaster. We consider it our duty to help the victims of such accidents.
History of Plant Explosions in the U.S.
As stated above, this is not the first time that a plant or refinery has exploded in the United States, and, unfortunately, it will most likely not be the last. There are countless causes of these types of explosions—many of which can be attributed to human behavior.
Some of the largest plant explosions and accident that have happened include:
- January 2003: On January 29, 2003 the West Pharmaceutical Plant in Kinston, North Carolina exploded—resulting in the death of 6 people and 36others. Subsequent investigations determined that most likely the cause of the incident was a large rubber dust explosion. The plant was highly criticized in following reports for inadequate safety policies, procedures, and communication.
- March 2005: On March 23, 2005, a massive explosion occurred at BP's refinery in Texas City, TX. The blow-out was believed to have been caused by hydrocarbon vapors contacting the ignition source, which some believe was a running work truck. The explosion resulted in more than 15 people losing their lives and caused injuries to more than 170 other individuals.
- November 2012: On November 6, 2012, an AmeriGas plant suffered from a propane explosion in Montgomery County, just east of Conroe, Texas. Reports stated that the primary cause of the incident was someone stepping on the line while propane tanks were being filled, which caused a kink. The incident resulted in at least two employees suffering severe burn injuries.
- February 2013: On February 9, 2013, an Air Liquide cylinder plant exploded in La Porte, Texas. It is believed that the explosion was triggered during the course of chemicals being mixed, which was the primary function of the plant. Around 20 employees were assigned to that facility; however, it was originally unclear how many were present. Later reports stated one was killed and one was injured.
- March 2013: There were two separate explosions that occurred in March of 2013. On March 4, an Akzo Nobel polymer chemical plant in Deer Park, TX went up in flames after spontaneous combustion—resulting in at least one worker suffering serious injuries. Then, on March 7, the American Steel Foundries plant in Granite City, Illinois exploded, which was caused by gas catching on fire near a grinding machine. 10 people were taken to hospitals for medical treatment.
- April 2013: On April 17, 2013, tragedy struck West, TX—a small city just north of Waco, TX with a population of only 2,800. The West Fertilizer Co. plant exploded, causing injuries to more than 100 people and leaving an undetermined amount of people dead and missing. The explosion also left a four-block radius around the plant completely destroyed, with 50-75 houses demolished.
- June 2013: On June 13, 2013, the Williams Olefins plant in Geismar, LA exploded and killed 2 while injuring 167 more. Our firm represented dozens of workers from the Geismar plant explosion, fighting to get them the money they needed to get medical treatment and provide for their families. Our efforts eventually secured them more than $30 million in two dramatic verdicts, followed by confidential settlements. Our team also proved in court that Williams Olefins' upper management ignored a known design flaw that put hundreds of workers at risk.
Wrongful Death from Refinery Explosions
In 2018, more people will die from workplace accidents than from armed conflicts worldwide.
The vast majority of these deaths will not only be preventable, but they'll be the result of companies knowingly putting their workers in dangers to maintain or increase production. The death of a loved one in a plant accident or refinery explosion not only means the loss of a spouse, parent, or child—for many families, it results in the loss of the sole income supporting the household. Our wrongful death attorneys help families recover by getting them the money they need to keep moving forward—money for groceries, the mortgage, and school tuition. We also help families force companies to reckon with the harm they caused through their policies, leading to emotional closure and a safer workplace for future employees.
Helping the Victims of Plant Explosion Protect Their Rights
At our firm, we recognize that there is likely a lot of confusion regarding the process that you are facing. We want you to know that we are here to help you through it. Our Houston plant explosion lawyers have a history of representing the victims of explosions; we were involved with cases that involved the 2005 plant explosion at the BP Amoco petrochemical plant in Texas City, as well as the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.
Some of the different areas that we can help explain:
- Science Behind Plant Explosions
- Chemical Plant Safety
- Types of Plant Explosion Injuries
- Living Near an Industrial Plant
- Plant Explosion Liability
- Plant Explosion Property Damage
- Causes of Explosions
- Plant Explosion FAQ
Talk to a Plant Explosion Lawyer as Soon as Possible!
At Arnold & Itkin, we are no strangers to helping the victims of plant accidents. We have seen firsthand the devastation they cause and have been involved in cases involving these catastrophic incidents before. Our legal team helped represent those injured in the 2005 BP Texas City explosion, as well as dozens of workers hurt by the 2013 chemical plant explosion in Geismar, LA. We know just how difficult it can be in the aftermath of such a tragedy, and we are dedicated to doing everything possible so that our clients can compensation to cover medical treatment, lost wages, and more. We fight for justice.
If you or a loved one has been injured, you may be entitled to compensation for any losses you suffered. It is essential to know where you stand. By talking to our plant explosion lawyers, you could receive experienced legal counsel and find out whether you have a case. We are passionate about getting innocent victims the compensation they rightfully deserve. Although we are located in Houston, Texas, we represent clients nationwide, securing billions in record-setting verdicts and settlements.
Our firm understands how difficult the time after an accident can be, and so we do everything possible to protect the best interests of victims and their families. Contact us immediately to learn how we can help you.
"What I think sets Arnold & Itkin apart from any other attorneys is just they’re not fake about how they act, and they’re just so real. They just want to help you so much. They have a lot of love to give."- Josh K.