PLAQUEMINE – Williams Olefins Geismar plans to appeal a recent verdict that awarded four men injured in a 2013 explosion at its Geismar, Louisiana plant a total of $13.6 million in damages.
An Iberville Parish jury ruled the company, several plant officials and its parent company were negligent and knew with substantial certainty that the deadly fire was a possibility. The jury rendered its verdict after five hours of deliberation in a trial that lasted three weeks. The trial in the first of several trials related to the incident that killed two and injured 114 other workers.
"Nothing about the tragic accident at the Williams Olefins facility in Geismar on June 13, 2013 was intentional,” the company said in a written statement. “We believe there is sufficient Louisiana case law that supports our legal position, and we will appeal the jury verdict rendered in the 18th Judicial District Court."
Despite the defense's statement, the jury found the Geismar plant was primarily responsible for the explosion.
"For a month, they were trying to shift blame onto their shell company (Williams Olefins), and I'm glad the jury saw right through it," Kurt Arnold, attorney for the plaintiffs, said.
In closing arguments, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that Williams Olefins administrative leaders and plant managers had some idea an explosion could occur, ignoring warnings for over seven years. The plaintiff's attorney's argued that the company could have prevented the tragedy at the facility.
"This accident doesn't happen if the board of directors and CEOs heeded the warnings they were told," Arnold said during the trial.
The plaintiffs contended that Williams, key management figures and others had known for years that one of two reboilers used in the refinery process was isolated from pressure relief, which meant there was a risk of over-pressurization and explosion.
Both sides admitted in the court the explosion could have been prevented if car seals, costing less than $5, were tied onto the rebroiler valves. But defense attorneys claimed corporate officials were under the assumption the safety measures had been followed based on what they were told by plant managers.
Much of the debate during the three-week trial centered on the whether Williams' Oklahoma-based corporate headquarters should bear much of the responsibility for the explosion since its administrative leaders must sign off on many of the day-to-day decisions made at the Geismar facility by the plant managers who work for its limited liability company, Williams Olefins.
"This case is about what's fair and reasonable. It's not about punishing any company," Randy Cangelosi, one of Williams’ several attorneys, said to the jury.
Tony Clayton, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told the jurors that Williams should not be allowed to injure its employees, and then turn around and determine how much money the workers should receive for their injuries.
"Your verdict will be a historical marker of how (these plants) conduct themselves in the future," Clayton said in his closing arguments. "If they're man enough to come here and make profits off of us, then they need to be man enough to pay for their substantial mistakes."
The four plaintiffs were awarded between $9.4 million and $205,000 each.