HOUSTON, TX (KTRE) - On Wednesday, a Houston jury awarded $39.7 million verdict to a man who was injured in a fire and an explosion that occurred at a Georgia-Pacific plant in Corrigan on April 26, 2014.
Two people died as a result of the fire and explosion, and four others were injured.
"This verdict sends a strong message that the public will not tolerate companies that design flawed products and deny responsibility," Kyle Findley, an attorney for Ralph Figgs, said in a press release. "You can't cut corners when it comes to people's lives."
Figgs was the plaintiff in the lawsuit. The award included a verdict of $33.113 million and a prejudgment interest total of $6.6 million. The total included past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, and past and future physical pain, suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, and emotional distress.
Kenny Morris and Charles Kovar died as a result of injuries they suffered in the fire and the explosion that followed.
According to a press release from Vincent Media Works on behalf of Arnold & Itkin LLP, the Houston jury assigned 51 percent of the fault to Aircon Inc., the company that designed and installed the dust collection system that failed and caused the fire, and they assigned 26 percent of the blame to GreCon Inc. the manufacturer of the spark detection and suppression system that failed.
The jury assigned the remaining 23 percent of the fault in the case to Georgia-Pacific, the press release stated.
On April 26, 2014, a fire occurred in a dust collection system at Georgia-Pacific wood processing plant in Corrigan.
"The fire and sparks eventually made their way into the clean side of a baghouse, causing a massive explosion and deflagration," the press release stated. "Georgia-Pacific employees, including Ralph Figgs, were working around the baghouse, and unknowingly, within the deflagration zone when the explosion occurred. Mr. Figgs and five other workers were severely burned when the fire from the deflagration engulfed them."
The press release stated that the dust collection system designed and installed by Aircon was built to move highly combustible dust particles from a sander to a baghouse where the dust could be collected.
"Since the baghouse collects and contains large amounts of highly combustible and flammable dust, various safety features must be designed into the system," the press release stated. "One such protective measure was a spark detection and suppression system designed and supplied by GreCo Inc. that was installed in the ductwork."
According to the press release, the system was marketed to prevent and eliminate fires and isolate the baghouse in case of an emergency. GreCon Inc. performed the annual inspections and testing of the system, the press release stated.
"Despite the risks of explosion and deflagration with the presence of highly combustible dust and sparks, the dust collection system that was designed and installed by Aircon Inc., including the GreCon Inc. spark detection and suppression system, failed to meet numerous industry standards set by the National Fire Protection Association and FM Global."
During the trial, the two defendants in the case took the position that they had no responsibility for the incident, the press release stated. They also allegedly argued that the explosion occurred because Georgia-Pacific failed to train its employees in regard to the hazards associated with the dust collection system. They also claimed that workers weren't properly trained in emergency procedures to address a fire in the dust collection system, the press release stated.
"The defendants also blamed third parties not present at trial for failing to perform proper inspections, as well as the failure of other apparent safety systems," the press release stated. "Plaintiff argued and proved that the explosion and deflagration occurred due to a defective design of the system and the defendants' failure to warn the plant, including the workers, of hazards associated with the system."
The press release stated that the law firm representing Figgs tried to settle with Aircon Inc. and GreCon Inc. out of court, but no offers were made.
The jury trial lasted three weeks, the press release stated.
According to the press release, Figgs suffered second- and third-degree burns to his head, both arms, back, and hands, and his injuries required numerous skin grafts and seven surgeries. Figgs also suffered brain damage as a result of the heat he experienced through his skull.
Figgs' doctor testified in court about his surgeries and future treatment.
"Mr. Figgs has also been diagnosed with and received treatment for severe PTSD and major depressive disorder," the press release stated.