Jury rules against Williams Olefins in deadly 2013 explosion trial

Jury rules against Williams Olefins in deadly 2013 explosion trial

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An Iberville Parish jury has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a trial regarding a deadly 2013 explosion at a chemical plant in Geismar.

The jury found that two management groups, the Williams Companies Inc. and the Williams Olefins LLC, knew that employees were at risk before the explosion occurred.

The groups were being sued by four contractors who were working at the plant on Thursday, June 13, 2013 when an explosion left two people dead and more than 70 others injured.

All four plaintiffs will receive compensation for their injuries from the explosion.

Shawn Thomas, who suffered severe back and leg injuries, was awarded the most with roughly $10 million for medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional struggles. Christopher Devall was awarded roughly $3.5 million, while two others earned around half a million dollars each for less severe injuries.

The jury also found that the plant's owner, the Williams Companies, Inc based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was 95 percent responsible for the explosion. Meanwhile, Williams Olefins LLC and two plant managers received the other five percent.

Kurt Arnold, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said it was an "amazing verdict."

"It was a hard fought trial, and we're so pleased that the jury came back this way," Arnold said.

Williams Olefins representatives released a statement after the verdict:

Nothing about the tragic accident at the Williams Olefins facility in Geismar on June 13, 2013 was intentional. 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.

The trial started on September 7, and lawyers for the contractors said they were confident in their case.

Arnold said during opening statements that this was, "not hindsight, this was a known risk." He said management disconnected a piece of equipment, known as a rebroiler, from a pressure relief system in 2001 for maintenance and did not re-connect it, resulting in the explosion.

Attorneys for Williams Olefins and management contended that their clients were unaware that an explosion was imminent and that a number of unlikely factors led to the explosion.

During their closing arguments, defense attorneys for Williams Olefins and the parent companies told jury members it was ridiculous to think that management would intentionally put employees at risk because they didn't want to lose profits, given that the explosion shut down the plant for 18 months. They also stated that the plaintiffs' injuries and mental problems, such as PTSD, have been over exaggerated.

Arnold said he has five more clients that were injured in the blast, and they are scheduled to go to trial in November.


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