Former ConAgra workers win $14M in plant explosion suit
Posted April 20, 2012 11:54 a.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2012 12:50 p.m. EDT
Smithfield, N.C. — A jury has awarded seven former ConAgra workers a total of $14.6 million in compensatory damages for injuries they suffered in an explosion at the company's Garner plant three years ago.
Three workers and a contractor were killed in the June 9, 2009, explosion, and dozens of others were injured.
Investigators determined that workers installing a water heater at the plant released natural gas inside the building as they purged a line, and a spark from nearby machinery caused the blast.
The seven workers sued Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., which was handling the installation at the plant.
Jurors last week awarded more than $7.5 million to Leonard Spruill, more than $4.5 million to Anthony Smith, $959,785 to Patricia Crosier, $518,437 to Brenda Brockington, $475,311 to Shelia Lynn, $354,101 to John Hooks and $313,246 to Tammie Lynn, according to court documents.
The jury will return to Johnston County Superior Court in June to consider assessing punitive damages in the case.
ConAgra shuttered the plant last year and shifted production of its Slim Jim beef jerky products to Ohio. At its peak, the Garner plant employed about 700 people.
The Omaha, Neb.-based company donated the 450,000-square-foot plant and the surrounding 106 acres to Garner and agreed to pay the town $3 million toward building a planned community center.
Garner officials are considering razing the plant to redevelop the site for other industries.