The economic recovery in the oil and gas markets has led to a new round of industrial expansion both inside and outside the oil fields. While this recovery is good news on the wage and employment fronts, it has also led to increasing numbers of industrial accident injuries. On this page, the Houston industrial plant explosion lawyer at the Doan Law Firm gives a summary of how such accidents occur and then discusses what an injured worker should do if injured in an industrial accident.
Causes of Industrial Plant Explosions
Although there are dozens of possible causes for Houston industrial plant explosions or accidents, many of those causes fall into five general classes:
Carelessness by an employee is probably the most common cause of industrial plant explosions in Texas and nationwide. Employee carelessness is often not a direct cause of the accident but the starting point of a “chain of events” that ends with the accident.
Defective equipment includes things such as malfunctioning ventilation systems, automatic fire controls, and rupture of storage vessels and tanks. Another form of defective equipment is normally-functioning equipment that was improperly installed and fails to correctly monitor some condition or process.
Improper Storage of Raw Materials and/or Finished Products
Many industrial processes make use of potentially toxic chemicals such as acids and heavy metals. In addition, many industries produce toxic substances as by-products. Regardless of at what stage in the manufacturing process these substances appear, all must be stored under very precise conditions until they can be used or properly rendered harmless.
Weather conditions are, of course, beyond the control of everyone. This does not mean, however, that the designers of industrial plants can simply ignore the potential effects of weather conditions on the safe operation of industrial plants and refineries. As an example, the extensive flooding along the Texas Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Harvey was unavoidable but this does not excuse a failure to design industrial facilities to withstand the effects of heavy rainfall and high wind on critical industrial control systems.
Industrial accidents do not always cause explosions or release clouds of toxic vapors. There are thousands of cases where a worker has been exposed to low levels of toxic and/or cancer-causing substances for years only to develop symptoms years later.
Long-term exposure may also pose a health hazard to those living near plants and refineries, even if those residents had no history of direct physical contact with dangerous substances. In such cases, those affected may be able to seek damages from an industrial plant or refinery owner.
Types of Damages That May Be Awarded in Industrial Plant Explosions
In accidents of any type, the person who was injured has the right to demand payment for any losses that they have suffered, so long as those losses were the direct result of the accident and the accident was the result of one or more acts of negligence by the party held to be responsible. These payments are called damages and are of three general types: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Economic damages are damages to which a definite “dollar value” can be assigned. The value of such damages is based on the actual cost to the accident victim for items such as current and future medical expenses, temporary living expenses, or damage to personal property that must be repaired or replaced.
Non-economic damages are awarded to compensate accident victims for “intangible” losses such as “pain and suffering” by the accident victim or the emotional distress experienced by the victim’s family. Damages of this type may also be awarded to compensate accident victims and their families for disruptions to family life and social activities such as family outings, family social events, or the ability to attend religious services.
Punitive damages, sometimes called “exemplary damages,” are intended to “punish” acts of negligence that resulted in an injury. In general, the amount of punitive damages awarded is proportional to the degree of negligence involved. In other words, a deliberate act of negligence will be punished more severely than would a simple oversight.
Depending on the laws of the state where the injury occurred, there may be a limit (“cap”) on the amount of punitive damages that a court may award an injured worker or the worker’s family. Your industrial plant explosion lawyer will be able to advise you on whether to pursue punitive damages based on the circumstances of your injury.
What Are Some of Texas’s Deadliest Plant Explosions?
This list is composed of more recent major plant explosions that have occurred around Texas, but this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all major incidents. Even during this time frame, there have been many plant explosions that have affected Texans.
November 2019 – TPC Houston Chemical Plant Explosion – Port Neches
This explosion injured three people, and the strength of the blast shattered windows and damaged doors at nearby homes while residents were asleep. This petrochemical plant explosion led to nearby residents being asked to stay in their homes until the situation was under control.
July 2019 – Baytown Plant Explosion
This fire at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Texas left 37 people with injuries. This fire began at the process that processes light hydrocarbons, including propylene and propane, which are materials used to make industrial and plastic products.
May 2019 – Kuraray America Eval Texas Chemical Plant Explosion
The explosion of this plant injured 21 workers in Pasadena, Texas. This facility is used to manufacture ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymers.
April 2019 – Crosby Chemical Plant Explosion
One person died, and two others were critically injured as a result of a chemical plant fire that was caused when a holding tank that contained flammable chemicals caught on fire. Four nearby school districts were locked down due to this incident.
April 2013 – West Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion
This explosion was one of the deadliest in Texas history and killed 15 people. This incident led to approximately 180 injuries. The two most likely culprits of this explosion were ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia, both of which are used to make fertilizer.
Why Do Plant Explosions Often Cause Widespread Damage?
Plants, particularly ones that refine oil and chemicals, contain major mechanical parts as well as significantly dangerous chemicals. These chemicals are typically flammable, corrosive, explosive, and even carcinogenic. Once a plant experience is even a small disaster, there is potential for a significant explosion to occur as a result of these chemicals and all of the machinery present.
Plant explosions can get out of hand very quickly, and it is often too dangerous of a situation for firefighters and emergency personnel to get close enough to contain any blaze or damage right away. Sometimes, first responders have to wait until the chemicals burn themselves out before they can get close. This means that they cannot get in and save or help anyone inside for an extended period of time, and there will be a continuous release of dangerous chemicals in the air that could affect the surrounding area and communities.
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Houston Plant Explosion FAQ
You may have many questions about plant explosions, particularly every time you see a new explosion in the news. Texas is not unaccustomed to plant explosions, particularly because the state is home to so many plants that manufacture petroleum products and other chemicals that the rest of the country uses on a regular basis. Our Houston personal injury lawyer answers some of the most common questions below.
1. What are the Risks in Your Community?
Do you know if there are any chemical plants or oil refineries in your general geographic location? Chances are, you are aware of any of these major facilities in your area, and if you are located within a few miles from one of these plants or refineries, then you could be at risk if an explosion occurs. Typically, those most at risk of sustaining injuries or property damage as a result of a refinery or plant explosion are the workers inside the facility or those who live very close to the site.
Be aware of any emergency personnel in your area using a loudspeaker alerting you about possible hazards, particularly if there are hazardous materials involved. In these cases, your local emergency officials will certainly have a way to alert the communities surrounding the area. This could include an emergency broadcast system, and you should always check the local news if you see, hear, or feel an explosion. Always listen to emergency personnel and municipal leaders when it comes to taking the next steps after an explosion occurs.
2. What Should You do if an Explosion Occurs?
You and your family should have a plan in place if you live near a plant or refinery. If you have children in the home, go over what to do if an explosion occurs and affects the household, similar to a plan that you should have in place for what happens if a fire breaks out. Depending on the nature of the incident and any damage your home may sustain, this could include sheltering in place inside the house or getting out of the house if there is structural damage that has impaired the integrity of the home. Each situation is different.
3. Should You Clean the Debris?
If there is debris around your home as a result of a plant or refinery explosion, you need to listen to local officials about what to do next. If there is any chance that the air is contaminated or the debris is contaminated as a result of the chemicals at the plant, you need to let hazmat safety experts handle the cleanup.
4. Do You Need Medical Care?
If you or somebody you love sustains an injury as a result of a plant or refinery explosion, you need to call 911 and seek medical care immediately. Your safety is the number one priority, and you need to continue all medical treatment recommended by a doctor until you have fully recovered.
5. How do You Report Damage?
You need to report any damage that occurs to your home to your insurance carrier as well as local emergency personnel. Make sure that the police and fire officials fill out or report about the damage so that you can turn this over to your insurance carrier. It is very likely that your insurance carrier will pursue a claim against the plant or refinery owners to recover the compensation needed to repair the damage to your home.
The Doan Law Firm Represents Industrial Plant Accident Victims
If you, or a family member, were injured in an industrial or chemical plant explosion accident in Houston you should contact an experienced industrial accident lawyer. They can review the facts surrounding your accidental injury and explore the options that may be available to you. In the Houston area, one such lawyer is the Houston industrial plant explosion lawyer at the Doan Law Firm.
When you contact our industrial plant explosion lawyer, your first consultation is always free of charge and does not obligate you to hire our firm to represent you in court. Should you decide that we should manage your accident case, we will assume all responsibility for preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the settlement that we will win for you.