Plant Explosion Sends Three to Augusta Burn Center - Longest Jury Trial
Foster Law Firm LLC was associated to file lawsuits on behalf of the injured men to sue the product manufacturer and Chinese importer Matrix Outsourcing, and distributors Trinity Manufacturing and Univar U.S.A. The Sodium Bromate packaging at issue was changed from ignition resistant drums to easily ignited 25kg plastic bags before the fire. The Plaintiffs also contended the bags lacked proper marks and labels as required by IMDG and DOT transportation regulations, as well as those by OSHA. The bags were loaded 40 to 50 per pallet and were sight unseen by any Defendant representative at any point in shipping from China to Seneca, S.C. The men were working overhead in a pipe rack when slag from cutting steel pipe landed on three or more pallets containing 10,000 lbs of the Sodium Bromate material, causing an explosion, and the men, tied off in the pipe rack, were exposed to tremendous heat, smoke and toxic gas. They suffered second and third degree burns, permanent lung damage, PTSD and orthopedic injury. They incurred $1.95 Million, $720,000, and $1.25 Million, respectively, in medical bills and claimed to be permanently disabled. Prior to the beginning of trial, Plaintiffs Black and Martin settled with Defendants Trinity and Matrix for a confidential sum.
The three cases were consolidated for a bifurcated trial, and tried on the liability issue beginning Oct. 20, 2008, for 21 days, the longest civil trial in Oconee history. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the three plaintiffs against Univar USA, Inc. for breach of an express warranty to label the bags in accordance with OSHA and DOT requirements. The jury ruled for the defendants on the negligence based claims. The damages phase lasted an additional 9 days, and the jury returned verdicts as follows: Keith Black - $2.6M; Scott Lawing -$1.9M, Tammy Lawing $100,000; Curtis Martin -$1.4M, Tina Martin $100,000. Plaintiffs filed post trial motions for new trial on damages only, and for new trial nisi additur. In addition, the Defendant filed an appeal of the determination of liability in the first trial, and Plaintiff Lawing appealed the finding in Matrix and Trinity's favor; all plaintiffs appealed the adverse rulings on the negligence claims. On March 31, 2009, the trial judge granted nisi additurs of an additional $1.4M to Martin and an additional $2.2M to Lawing. The judge also refused to setoff the confidential settlements paid by Trinity and Matrix from the jury's awards As a result of the court's rulings, Lawing is entitled to $4.2M, Martin $2.8M plus his confidential settlement, and Black $2.6M plus his confidential settlement.. This trial is believed to be one of the longest, if not the longest, civil jury trial in the state of S.C.
The cases are styled Keith Black, Curtis Martin, and Scott Lawing vs. Univar USA, Matrix Outsourcing, LLP, & Trinity Manufacturing Inc., C.A. No. 2005-CP-37-604 & 605 and 2006-CP-37-30.