Texas Responders Sue Chemical Plant

Seven first responders to the disastrous chemical fire in Crosby. Texas last month have filed suit against the chemical company and three of its top managers seeking damages in excess of one million dollars in damages. The explosions and fire occurred after Hurricane Harvey struck the region.

The seven plaintiffs, Christy Graves, David Klozik, Edward Ariel Mejia, Brice Owens, Steven Schreiber, Brad Sweetman, and Adan Trejo, Jr., filed the suit today in Harris County District Court. The suit names Arkema, Inc., Richard Rennard, Richard P. Rowe and Andrew Burdett as defendants.

According to the complaint:

  • On or about August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck the coast of the State of Texas as a Category 4 hurricane.
  • Subsequently, Hurricane Harvey moved slightly inland and stalled for several days, all the while churning massive amounts of rain into the southeast Texas area, including east Harris County, where the town of Crosby, Texas resides.
  • Over the course of those several days, Hurricane Harvey dropped in excess of fifty (50) inches of rain in and around Crosby, Texas.
  • While Hurricane Harvey did cause massive devastation as a result of the rain which poured down from it, the residents and businesses in southeast Texas were given several days’ notice that a major rain event was coming.
  • This is not the first time Houston has seen massive amounts of rain, nor is it the first time that widespread areas of Houston and surrounding areas have suffered from flooding as a result of massive amounts of rain. This has happened before. As a matter of fact, this has happened so many times before that most industries, private businesses and even governmental agencies have put in place physical structures and written procedures to prevent harm and damage to their properties and the people in their communities.
  • Unfortunately for the Plaintiffs herein, Arkema, Inc. never heeded the warnings and ignored the foreseeable consequences of failing to prepare.
  • As a result of Arkema’s failure to prepare, its employees were forced to abandon the Crosby facility on August 29, 2017, leaving behind hazardous and toxic chemicals with no supervision.
  • Those chemicals required refrigeration, and the lack thereof was going to undoubtedly cause the chemicals to break down and ignite.
  • Knowing this, and upon information and belief it having happened before at this very facility, Arkema and its safety managers and engineers nonetheless failed to adequately prepare for back-up refrigeration of those chemicals in the event of a power outage or other catastrophe-an issue that Arkema has previously been cited for by governmental authorities.
  • Subsequent to having its employees abandon the facility, an arbitrary 1.5 mile radius was drawn around the Crosby facility, and all persons in that radius were mandatorily evacuated from their homes and businesses.
  • Everyone was made to sit and wait, waiting for the inevitable explosion of toxic chemicals into the air in and around Crosby, Texas.
  • In the interim, Arkema, Inc.’ s representatives Richard Rennard and Richard P. Rowe held press conferences in Harris County, Texas and repeatedly denied that the chemicals were toxic or harmful in any manner to the people, and first responders, in the community.
  • Plaintiffs relied upon these representations and suffered serious bodily injuries as a result.
  • In the early morning hours of August 31, 2017, the first of several explosions occurred as a result of the abandoned chemicals heating up and igniting. Although the explosions had occurred, no one from Arkema alerted the first responders who were manning the perimeter of the arbitrary mandatory evacuation area.
  • Immediately upon being exposed to the fumes from the explosion, and one by one, the police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road.
  • Calls for medics were made, but still no one from Arkema warned of the toxic fumes in the air. Emergency medical personnel arrived on scene, and even before exiting their vehicle, they became overcome by the fumes as well. The scene was nothing less than chaos.
  • Police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.
  • Medical personnel, in their attempts to provide assistance to the officers, became overwhelmed and they too began to vomit and gasp for air. Some of the police officers, unable to abandon their vehicles due to their weapons being present, jumped in their vehicles and drove themselves to the nearest hospital.
  • The other officers and medical personnel were all placed in an ambulance, and were driven to the hospital. Each of the Plaintiffs herein were subjected to that scene, that chaos, and those toxic fumes.

The three-count complaint alleges negligence, gross negligence and negligence per se.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Graves et al v Arkema

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • mr618

    Bearing in mind that these are allegations made by the plaintiffs (and hence, inherently true, correct?), and based on previous actions (or inactions) within the chemical industry, I’d say that sounds like a pretty open and shut case.

    • CurtVarone

      Andrew – don’t forget the “Act of God” defense… rarely used… but it is part of the CERCLA (Superfund Act)… Congress enacted it… put its stamp of approval on it as a defense… Not saying I agree with it – only that it would be hard to imagine a weather event that is more deserving of being called an “Act of God”

      • mr618

        Good point. Which is why you’re the lawyer and I’m the client.
        Bet you loved Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate”…

  • firemedic5100

    I think it will come down to who tells the better story. While I don’t doubt their symptoms, I look to the ERG which gives the minimum evacuation distance of 1/2 mile, for organic peroxides. The company from the start did tell everyone from the start what the chemical was, and they also set the evacuation distance to 1 1/2 miles. Nobody in the Houston area, (including the meteorologists) had a clue the amount of rain the storm would dump, nor the amount of flooding we saw. The one thing against the company is their history with OSHA and the CSB.

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