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ConAgra workers sue Garner, contractors over explosion

Posted April 8, 2010

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— About two dozen workers at the ConAgra Foods Inc. plant in Garner have filed suit against the town and several contractors and component suppliers, alleging negligence that led to a fatal explosion at the plant last summer.

The suit is the second filed in connection with the June 9 blast at the plant, which killed three ConAgra workers and a contractor who was installing a gas-fired water heater. Last summer, two other workers sued a mechanical contractor that isn't named as a defendant in the new suit.

The workers involved in the new lawsuit all suffered extensive burns and other injuries in the explosion, and they are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Federal investigators determined the explosion was caused by contractors venting natural gas inside the plant while installing the water heater.

The state Department of Labor found 27 workplace safety violations at the plant in a subsequent inspection, and ConAgra agreed to pay a $106,440 fine and implement policy and procedure changes to address potential safety issues with contractors.

ConAgra isn't named as a defendant in either lawsuit.

The new suit, which was filed Tuesday, alleges that Garner inspectors were inside the ConAgra plant the day of the explosion and knew that gas was being improperly vented into the building. Town inspectors also should have known that employees of one of the contractors, Midsouth Industrial Refrigeration Inc., didn't have the proper permits and licenses to work on the gas line in the plant.

Garner spokeswoman Michelle Howell issued a statement Thursday evening calling the suit against the town "improper and without basis."

"It is unfortunate that some have decided to include the town in this matter," Howell said, declining further comment until the town attorney had reviewed the 240-page lawsuit.

In addition to Midsouth Industrial Refrigeration, other contractors and suppliers named as defendants in the new suit are Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., Energy Systems Analysts Inc., Freedom Electric Inc., Fireye Inc., Maxon Corp., Weeks-Williams-Devore Inc., Rockwell Automation Inc., Todd's Maintenance and Construction LLC, Honeywell International Inc., AJ Antunes & Co., Bacharach Inc., Rexel Inc., IMS Metering Holdings, Invensys Metering Systems N.A. Inc., Sensus Metering Systems Inc., Sensus USA Inc. and Sensus (Bermuda 2) Ltd. Inc.

ConAgra officials announced last month that they would close the Garner plant, which makes Slim Jim beef jerky products, by the fall of 2011 and shift production to Ohio.

The company reopened the Garner plant last August, but officials said the damage from the explosion limited production too much.

About 450 jobs will be eliminated when the plant shuts down. The company laid off another 300 workers last fall.

38 Comments

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  • gotsomesense Apr 9, 2010

    Scare Crow

    Yes, I have heard of the Mechanical code and the Fuel Gas Code (technically Mech pertains to HVAC applications and the Fuel Gas Code is part of the plumbing package which is exactly my point). The procedure is each trade contractor applies for a work permit for each trade (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc). When the rough-in work is COMPLETE you call the inspector and they come and inspect the finished work. They do not watch you while you work - which is why I am saying that any inspectors who were there that day were probably there to inspect the FINISHED work of another trade. Most larger towns and cities have DIFFERENT inspectors for each trade. So if the work was in progress, as this apparently was, the appropriate inspector would not have been called yet and would not have been there. It is not up to an inspector to tell a contractor HOW to perform their work, they are only there to ensure that the finished work is according to the code. I'm a contractor and know this.

  • AtALost Apr 8, 2010

    Hopefully those complaining about the lawsuits will be the ones involved the next time something like this happens due to negligent individuals. I'm sure they'd all prefer to have their lives back to normal before those idiots vented gas inside the building. Plenty of businesses cut corners and have dull employees to save $$, however, it's a much bigger deal when they are building buildings, installing gas lines, mining, etc. than just ringing up a burger. The only thing they can give the victims is money. Yes, accidents happen but rules are in place to prevent this sort of thing since many people lack the common sense to recognize when they're doing something dumb.

  • tamiya_stars Apr 8, 2010

    Can't say I am surprised at this one bit, typical strategy to go after anybody and everybody involved and see how it shakes out. We really need a loser pays all legal costs tort system in this country.

  • FromClayton Apr 8, 2010

    well good luck with that. I can't even say i disagree with going after them.... it does seem like they all should have known better. Sorry for all you have been through. I hope you can heal on the inside and out.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 8, 2010

    One more attempt at shaking down a business to get a handout.

    If ConAgra had stayed in Garner, this lawsuit would have never happened.

  • flipper59 Apr 8, 2010

    "but everyone"

    hey, speak for yourself

  • Whatever Geez Apr 8, 2010

    Easy to say this when you’re standing on the side-line. Let’s see how you would feel if it was you or a loved one. It was negligence. I am offended and you knew you were going to offend someone!
    cubed32696

    I'm not being rude and I hate any type of accident to anyone and their families that are involved but everyone is always looking for a get rich quick scheme and often times its an accident that people want so much money out of. Do you know how many times accidents happen and no one gets a dime?

  • Wheelman Apr 8, 2010

    2kidz1hub - You are correct. Everyone gets included to prevent the real guilty party from using legal tricks to blame an un-named party and get the case thrown out.

  • NoFreakinWay Apr 8, 2010

    good luck with that ambulance chasing, I doubt you'll see a dime, but nice thought.

  • Eduardo1 Apr 8, 2010

    hey, sue everyone in sight.
    You know for sure you are going to get settlement offers from many if not all of them

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