Texas Personal Injury Law Blog

Deer Park Plant Fire Poses Benzine Exposure Risk

Deer Park industrial plant fire ITC plant fire plume could be seen for miles across Houston on 3/17/2019.

Despite the best efforts of firefighters and others to control the blaze at Intercontinental Terminals Company ITC plant fire in Deer Park , the fires at a Houston-area petrochemical plant engulfed at least 8 tanks and involved the release of a hazardous chemical–benzine.  Elevated benzine levels have resulted in the evacuation of nearby buildings and schools and a “Shelter-in-place” advisory has been issued for Deer Park and Galena Park.  People in those areas are requested to stay indoors, close their fireplace damper and not run their air conditioners so as to not draw in the outside air to avoid pollution and benzine exposure.

The Intercontinental Terminals Company plant in Deer Park converts crude oil to gasoline and machine oil. For unknown reasons, a fire broke out and quickly spread. However, firefighters used over 135,000 gallons of foam and massive amounts of water to partially contain the blaze.

Plant Explosions and Workplace Injuries

Starting with the Texas City plant explosion in 1947, Greater Houston has seen more than its share of industrial plant fires. Generally, plant managers are under intense pressure to maximize output in order to meet demand. A rushed environment and volatile chemicals is a recipe for disaster.

The workers’ compensation system provides benefits to employees who are injured in plant explosions and other such incidents if the plant owner chooses to provide his employees with worker’s compensation coverage. If the plant owner does not provide worker’s compensation or the victim is not an employee or contractor covered as a borrowed servant, then that is when retaining a work injury lawyer to seek compensation for negligence becomes important.

Oil Industrial Plant Injuries

Crude oil and other such chemicals burn at a different temperature from refined gasoline. So, many victims sustain third and fourth-degree burns. These injuries always require painful skin grafts from expensive burn centers. After the surgery, these victims must endure many months of physical therapy to regain lost function.

Chemical burns are common as well. The flames at the Deer Park plant engulfed a large chemical vat of toluene. This noxious chemical is an industrial solvent and a fuel additive. It sears ears, noses, and throats. Furthermore, if inhaled, it also could cause permanent neurological damage.

Smoke and fumes from chemical fires may cause a number of other illnesses as well, including cancer. In fact, Texas workers’ compensation law contains a presumption that firefighters who develop cancer and certain other illnesses probably got sick because they inhaled toxic smoke.

Civil Claims in Work Injury Cases

In a civil claim, injured victims may obtain compensation for their noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life. These benefits are available on top of money for economic damages.

Ambient Exposure to Danger

As the smoke billows from the Deer Park plant, the workers are not the only people at risk. Neighbors must breathe the same air that workers breathe.

Non-employee victims can always file civil damage claims. But there are issues. For example, these victims must establish negligence, or a lack of ordinary care, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Additionally, cancer and other serious illnesses often do not appear until after the statute of limitations has expired. Victims can typically use the discovery rule to extend the statute of limitations, but these cases are quite complex.

Civil claimants may be entitled to additional exemplary damages. This money is available if there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally disregarded a known risk.   As the search for the cause continues, if you have questions about your rights, you can contact Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. for further information.

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Author

Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.