Lawsuits filed against owner of Texas fertilizer plant following deadly explosion

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by Jim Orr

At least 33 residents and four local insurance agencies have filed suit against Adair Grain Inc., the owner of the fertilizer plant that exploded last week in West, Texas. The explosion on April 17 killed at least 14, injured more than 200 and damaged more than 70 homes and businesses in a five-block area of West, Texas.

The lawsuits accuse the plant owners of negligently failing to train and supervise employees adequately in the storage and handling of a volatile, toxic material such as ammonium nitrate, a common building block of fertilizers.

The company “was negligent in the operation of its facility, creating an unreasonably dangerous condition, which led to the fire and explosion,” alleges the lawsuit filed by insurance companies on behalf of individuals, two churches, and businesses including a Chevrolet dealer and a bakery.

Investigators have not said what caused the fire and explosion, which was so powerful it leveled homes and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Most of those killed in the explosion were firefighters. After a fire broke out at the fertilizer plant, some of the volunteer firefighters and other first responders who rushed to the scene appeared to have known that there were tons of dangerously combustible ammonium nitrate inside, but others did not.

Investigators say that ammonium nitrate stored at the plant appeared to have caused the deadly explosion. Ammonium nitrate is the same chemical that Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The nitrogen-rich chemical is popular with farmers as a fertilizer but it can be explosive. However, when properly stored, ammonium nitrate is difficult to ignite. Thus investigators are trying to determine what could have created the intense heat or other unusual conditions necessary to detonate the chemical.

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Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2013.