Two men were injured recently by explosions at the Airgas Mid America plant in Putnam County, West Virginia. The source of the explosion may have been 50 cylinders of acetylene, a gas used for welding and torch-cutting metal. Five employees were working in the plant at the time, though it is not clear whether the two injured were among them. The two men were taken to the local hospital with first and second degree burns.
The explosion occurred on Monday afternoon. Witnesses claim that they saw flames shooting out of the plant, and then the sound of the explosions could be heard half a mile away. One local businessman said that he saw “a huge cloud of black smoke and flames” before firemen got the fire under control.
The Airgas Mid America plant housed 100 cylinders of acetylene in all, as well as 76,000 pounds of propylene and roughly 10,000 pounds of propane (both considered to be highly flammable gasses). Companies that produce and store specific quantities of dangerous chemicals must file disclosures about them with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as with local emergency officials. The EPA has no record of the amount of acetylene the Airgas plant had stored.
The official cause of the explosions has yet to be discovered, but it is known that the propylene is stored in four small interconnected bulk tanks. The Airgas company claims that the explosions occurred in a concrete cylinder storage area as opposed to the main plant, but that the main plant was evacuated as a precaution.
In such a situation, it hardly needs to be said that those who produce and maintain dangerous, volatile chemicals have the strictest duty not only to the employees working around the chemicals, but also to anyone in the surrounding community. If you are injured by debris or fire from a nearby explosion or other workplace accident, you may have the option of hiring a West Virginia personal injury attorney and filing a lawsuit.
If you were an employee injured by the explosion, you should be eligible to receive workers’ compensation payments for your lost wages and medical bills. Most employers are required to maintain workers’ compensation insurance. The downside is that it requires injured employees to waive their right to a lawsuit to accept payments, when it is possible that the amount gained in a lawsuit might have been greater. The upside is that the employee can receive payments even if the employee’s behavior was partly the cause for the explosion.
However, if you are a third party injured by an explosion or other nearby accident, you do not lose your right to file a lawsuit. You could hire an experienced attorney who could determine whether the other party breached a duty to you by behaving unreasonably, and whether that breach was the cause of your injury and the resulting damage. If you are successful in your lawsuit, you can obtain “damages,” a monetary award, for pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, and more. In rare cases, you may also receive punitive damages.