Judge Clears Way for First Trial on 2013 Louisiana Plant Explosion

August 10, 2016

More than three years after a devastating explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins complex in Geismar, La., attorneys says a state district judge has cleared the way for the first civil trial brought by workers who say they were injured in the blast.

The Advocate reports Judge Elizabeth A. Engolio denied Williams’ motion for summary judgment, avoiding an end to the case based only on legal argument, and allowing a Sept. 6 trial on the first group of five plaintiffs to proceed in Plaquemine.

The ruling comes just a month after another district court judge in Ascension Parish agreed to dismiss Williams from separate suits brought by several plaintiffs also alleging injury in the explosion. The Williams Olefins’ plant straddles the Ascension-Iberville line.

The June 13, 2013, blast at the complex, which was then undergoing a $300 million ethylene expansion, killed two men and injured 114 workers, authorities said at the time.

The explosion has since spawned a series of damages lawsuits in Ascension and Iberville parishes, garnered Williams a $36,000 fine from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and scrutiny from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

But the early phases of litigation over the explosion, in addition to drawing in nearly two dozen defendants, has involved wrangling over which parish the suits should be tried in and whether Williams can even be sued over the blast.

Many of the suits have involved contractors who were employed by companies hired by Williams to work on the plant expansion. Under Louisiana’s workers’ compensation law, defense attorneys have argued Williams is immune from suit and those contractors are entitled only to workers’ compensation benefits.

But the law has an exception that allows lawsuits to proceed if the wrong being alleged has been deemed intentional by the courts.

Plaintiffs in the Iberville case and in others have alleged that Williams’ plant leadership knew and was repeatedly warned that the reboiler that ruptured and sparked the massive fire did not have a key pressure relief system that would have avoided over-pressurization and explosion.

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