Owners of a fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas, were negligent in their operations and created "an unreasonably dangerous condition" that led to the blast, according to a lawsuit filed recently by four subsidiaries of the W.R. Berkley Corp.
The April 17 explosion leveled the plant, which is about 80 miles south of Dallas, and sent shockwaves, debris and flammable material through the town of about 2,500 people, causing widespread destruction of property, the lawsuit says. The explosion was sparked by a fire in the plant.
The lawsuit, filed in a McLennan County, Texas district court, is being brought by insurance companies on behalf of several businesses, individuals and a church that sustained losses because of the blast, the suit says. The insurance companies are Acadia Insurance Co., Continental Western Insurance Co. and Union Standard Lloyds. A fourth company is listed in the suit as Union Standard Insurance Co., which according to the Texas Department of Insurance is now doing business as Berkley National Insurance Co.
The only charge currently being brought under the lawsuit is negligence, but the owners are accused of being neglectful in almost every aspect of the plant's operation, according to the court papers. Negligence listed in the lawsuit includes: operation of the facility; hiring of unqualified employees; supervision at the plant; installation of equipment; and failure to maintain a safe facility.
The Texas Insurance Council has estimated insured losses from the blast will reach $100 million with the possibility for the figure to rise. The number of homes believed destroyed is 140. Fifteen people were killed and 200 injured by the blast, the ITC said.
A demand for damages is not listed in the lawsuit, other than to ask a jury to hear the case. Attempts to reach Paul Grinke, an attorney with McCathern PLLC handling the case for the plaintiffs, were not immediately successful. The suit names West Fertilizer Co. and its parent company, Adair Grain, Inc. as defendants.
"Our focus is on helping in the fact finding and assisting the investigation to ensure something like this doesn't happen again in any community," said Daniel Keeney, a spokesman for Adair Grain. "We're not focused on the lawsuits."
The owner of Adair Grain, Donald Adair, expressed his sympathies and his appreciation for the responders in a recently release written statement. Adair, a lifelong resident of West, said his "heart is broken with grief for the tragic losses."
"While the investigation continues, and out of respect for the investigative process, we will limit our comments during the weeks and months ahead," the statement says.