The verdict represents the second lawsuit filed against Williams Company, the plant’s owner; in relation to the 2013 blast that killed two workers and left 167 injured.
The Williams Olefins Plant, which is located in Geismar, Louisiana, is used to produce ethylene and propylene for use in the petrochemical industry through a process known as steam cracking. This is when high temperatures are used to cause chemical changes in long-chain hydrocarbons. Then the mixture is rapidly “quenched” in a heat exchanger.
According to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the explosion was the result of “non routine operational activities”. These introduced heat to an offline heat exchanger, triggering an overpressure event that eventually caused the heat exchanger to rupture and explode.
At the time of the accident, the facility was undergoing an expansion project intended to increase its ethylene production. There were approximately 800 contractors on scene when the explosion occurred; in addition to the plant’s normal operating staff of 110 people.
The Plaintiffs in the case against Williams and its subsidiary Williams Olefins LLC (the official owner of the plant) were represented by attorneys Kurt Arnold, Kyle Findley, and Kala Sellers of Arnold & Itkin LLP of Houston.
In reaching their verdict, the jury assigned 95% of the responsibility for the accident to Williams Companies. Despite attempts by the defense to shift responsibility to Williams Olefins LLC to defend against the recovery of damages.
This verdict comes after an earlier verdict against the company from September of this year. This saw four Plaintiffs awarded a total of $13.6 million in compensation for their injuries suffered during the plant explosion.
According to Arnold & Itkin’s website, the firm intends to bring a number of additional suits against Williams Companies as well as Sabic Petrochemical, a Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based petrochemical firm that held a 16% stake in the Williams Olefins Plant at the time of the explosion.
The Williams Olefins Plant remains in operation today. It produces approximately 1.95 billion pounds of ethylene and 114 million pounds of propylene each year. According to Lauren Grim, an investigator for U.S. Chemical Safety Board, “Williams made positive safety management changes at the Geismar facility following the accident, but more should be done to improve process safety and strengthen the plant’s process safety culture.”