W.Va. Power Plant Fire Suit Settled for $27 Million

April 26, 2011

The family of a construction worker who died trapped in a cage inside a burning smokestack and two other workers who were trapped on top for hours have settled their lawsuit against American Electric Power and several other companies for $27 million.

Attorney Clayton Fitzsimmons tells The Intelligencer that the settlement came last week as a trial was getting under way in Marshall County Circuit Court. Fitzsimmons represented both the family of the victim, 27-year-old Gerald Talbert, and two men who were trapped atop the flaming, 976-foot tall smokestack on March 4, 2006.

“The case has been settled to the satisfaction of all parties, and we anticipate the court dismissing the case in coming days,” AEP spokeswoman Carmen Prati-Miller said Monday. “On behalf of AEP, we express our condolences to Mrs. Talbert and the Talbert family.”

She declined further comment.

The fire at AEP’s Kammer-Mitchell power plant in Marshall County began while crews were installing a fiberglass lining in the new stack, which was being built by Pullman Power of Kansas City, Mo.

While other workers were able to escape, David Earley of New Matamoras, Ohio, Jay McDonald of Kanab, Utah, and Timothy Wells of New Martinsville were stuck atop the smokestack for four hours until a helicopter could rescue them.

Widow Tiffani D. Talbert joined Wells and Earley in suing AEP and 10 other defendants, including Pullman Power and Ershings Inc. The lawsuit accused the companies of negligence and claimed they knew working conditions inside the stack were dangerous.

Talbert, they argued, died because of a defective cable on the lift that controlled his work cage.

Fitzsimmons said the $27 million settlement will benefit all three families, but the bulk will go to the Talberts.

“Nothing can fully compensate a family for its loss, but we are happy with the outcome,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said representatives of the companies apologized to the Talbert family after the settlement.

“They specifically stated that as a result of this tragedy, they have changed the safety, rules and culture of the plant,” he said. “That is important as we need to make sure that when our families go off to work, they are going to come home safely.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Pullman Power $107,100 for safety violations after the fire.

They included: allowing employees to smoke and using infrared heaters near flammable material; failing to train employees on the hazards inside the stack; failing to monitor dust; failing to prevent hot slag from falling onto flammable materials; and failing to create a rescue plan.

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