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Holding Manufacturers Responsible for Fatal Workplace Accidents

Thousands of Tennessee workers suffer serious workplace injuries every year. Tragically, some of these workplace injuries result in death. While some of these cases may truly be accidental or unavoidable, many workplace injuries and fatalities are the result of an employer’s negligence and insufficient safety practices. Unfortunately for workers and their families, employers are usually not eager to admit liability, and extended litigation is required to hold these companies accountable.

Judge Says Family Can Sue Parent of Tennessee Chemical Plant

An ongoing Tennessee case illustrates the types of legal hurdles victims face. This case arises from a highly publicized incident at a chemical manufacturing facility in Hardeman County. In February 2014, an industrial fire ignited at the Kilgore Flares plant, which led to an explosion. Several people were serious injured. One man, a worker at the plant, suffered third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body and eventually died.

Sadly, this was not the first safety incident at the Kilgore Flares plant. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives told a Memphis television station, “There have been multiple multiple incidents over the last ten years” at the same plant. Indeed, there have been eight deaths at the plant over a 30-year period, including a 1999 fatality under similar circumstances to the 2014 case. The earlier case resulted in a $100,000 fine from Tennessee state regulators.

Apparently, that fell on deaf ears, because Tennessee officials determined after the 2014 explosion there were still multiple safety violations at the Kilgore Flares plant. Tennessee’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health concluded after an investigation the “severity of injuries, the probability for composition ignition, and the severity of the fire/explosion event were increased by inadequate and poorly implemented procedures.”

Not surprisingly, the 2014 explosion victim’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the owner of the Kilgore Flares plant and its parent company. The defendants moved to dismiss the case on several grounds. On December 7, Chief U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen rejected all of the defendants’ arguments and said the case could proceed.

One issue was the potential liability of Chemring Group, PLC, which is the parent company of Kilgore Flares. Chemring is a Delaware corporation which is the sole owner of the limited liability company (LLC) which operates the Kilgore plant. Chemring argued it could not be held directly liable for the acts of its subsidiary. Judge Breen disagreed. Under Delaware corporation law, which applies to Chemring, while a parent may not be held liable “solely” because it owns a subsidiary company, it can still “be held liable for either its own independent tortious acts or its role in the alleged tortious conduct of the LLC.” Here, the victim’s family alleged Chemring published its own “Health and Safety Policy,” by which act it assumed a duty to ensure the safety of workers at the Kilgore Flares plant. Judge Breen said a jury could find, based on this policy, Chemring was “directly” liable for the accident.

The judge also rejected Chemring’s argument the victim’s family could only seek relief under Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law. While workers’ compensation normally provides the “exclusive” remedy for employees who seek compensation from their employers following a workplace accident, that does not apply to claims, like the one made here, against an employer’s parent company. In other words, Chemring was not the victim’s “statutory employer,” so it cannot hide behind workers’ compensation to avoid potential liability for its own negligence.

Need Help from a Personal Injury Lawyer?

It is important to emphasize the Chemring lawsuit is ongoing and the defendants have not been found liable for any wrongdoing as of this writing. But the complex nature of the legal issues involved highlights the importance of working with an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer. If you or a family member has been seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette in Clinton or Knoxville today.

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