$18.9 Million in Plant Explosion Case

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by Heygood Orr and Pearson

Heygood, Orr & Pearson, along with attorney Robert Lee, represented Amy Rutherford in a wrongful death case against TXI stemming from the January 7, 2003 death of her husband Gordon Rutherford.  On that date, Gordon was working as a welder on a 4-person crew for Circle 4M Welding in man-lift baskets 90 feet above the ground at the TXI Cement Plant in Midlothian, Texas.  While welding adjacent to an environmental scrubber, five and one half tons of plastic caught on fire which enveloped Gordon Rutherford causing his death.

His widow, Amy, brought a lawsuit against TXI Operations, L.P. alleging that TXI negligently caused Gordon Rutherford’s death by failing to warn Gordon and his fellow welders of the existence of the combustible plastic in violation of their own policies, procedures and federal law.

In defending itself in the lawsuit, TXI said that they were unaware that the plastic in the scrubber was combustible, despite the fact that TXI’s own policies and federal law defined plastic as “combustible.”  TXI conceded that if they had known the plastic was combustible – as it was – they had an obligation to warn the welders, including Gordon Rutherford, of such danger.  However, they denied that they were aware of such and alleged that the manufacturers of the plastic and the companies who built the scrubber were the parties really at fault for failing to tell them of the combustible nature of the plastic.

The case went to trial on February 20, 2007 and the jury began deliberations on March 21, 2007.  The verdict was returned today, March 23, 2007.  The jury placed 100% of the responsibility and negligence on TXI and awarded $18.9 Million Dollars in actual damages.  The verdict was unanimous. After pre-judgment interest and court costs, the trial court entered a judgment against TXI for $23,577,000.

During the trial, Amy Rutherford alleged that TXI did have actual knowledge of the combustible nature of the plastic by virtue of a previous incident in the scrubber 18 months earlier wherein the plastic overheated and melted.  At that time, a representative of the company that manufactured the plastic testified that he personally recommended that TXI replace the plastic in the scrubber with stainless steel for many reasons – including overheating reasons.  However, given the additional costs involved, TXI decided to reject such recommendation.  In addition, Mrs. Rutherford pointed to the fact that the heads of safety over the plant were inexperienced regarding the safety issues that confront a large industrial plant – having never held a job in safety prior to being hired by TXI.

TXI was represented in the case by Charles Hurd and Lee Thibodeaux with the Houston office of Fulbright & Jaworski. The case was settled subsequent to trial pursuant to a confidential high/low agreement which resulted in the client receiving less than the judgment amount.

The Law Offices of Heygood, Orr & Pearson is a Texas civil trial firm specializing in business litigation and life altering personal injury and wrongful death litigation.  Should you wish to discuss Heygood, Orr & Pearson potentially representing you or your company in a civil litigation matter, please contact the firm at info@hop-law.com