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Lawsuit charges Alon USA with negligence in 2008 explosion

July 23, 2011

Round two in the legal battle between Alon USA — owner of the Big Spring Refinery — and local residents claiming damages caused by the Feb. 18, 2008, explosion that rocked the Crossroads area to its core is expected to begin in 118th District Court with jury selection slated Monday morning.
The lawsuit — which names more than 150 plaintiffs — claims it was the negligence of Alon USA that caused the explosion, which occurred shortly after 8:20 a.m.
“More over, the defendants (Alon USA and several subsidiaries) acted with malice and such conduct was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries,” reads the lawsuit, submitted on behalf of more than 150 Crossroads residents by Pinkerton Law Firm, based out of Webster, Texas.
Specifically, the plaintiffs and their attorneys assert that the explosion was caused by “failure to properly train employees, contractors and other agents operating at the refinery; failure to properly supervise employees, contractors and other agents operating at the refinery; failure to properly maintain the refinery; and failure to properly inspect the refinery.”
“The acts and omissions of defendants were committed with complete and reckless disregard for, and with willful, wanton and actual conscious indifference to the rights, safety and welfare of plaintiffs,” the suit reads. “These issues raised the level of risk at the refinery. Due to the existence of these issues, the explosion was a foreseeable event which exposed the plaintiffs, workers and the neighboring community to the hazards that existed at the oil refinery. This deliberate and intentional ignorance of unsafe behavior, exposed to such risk of peril, and proximately caused the plaintiffs’ property damage and personal injuries.”
An explosion ripped through the Big Spring Refinery during the early morning hours with at least one Big Spring business shut down due to structural concerns caused by the blast. Several others were reported to have suffered damages, including blown-out windows and doors.
According to witness accounts, the cause of the February explosion was a propylene tank leak that caused a mist-like vapor to gather in the refinery, eventually making its way into a cat cracker heater and an alkaline unit, causing both to explode simultaneously
According to court officials, it’s currently unclear which plaintiffs — nearly 200 have been named in the suit since it was filed — are going to be represented during next week’s proceedings.
A similar trial held in December 2010 yielded more than $350,000 for property repair and medical expenses for a pair of plaintiffs named in the cause, finding that Alon had been negligent in assisting the plaintiffs and awarded damages for one plaintiff in the amount of $236,605 for property damage and $8,400 for medical expenses.
The second plaintiff in the 2010 trial was awarded $105,200 for property damage and $10,200 for medical expenses. However, the jury declined to find Alon “grossly negligent” in their actions.
A finding of gross negligence would have opened the door for the plaintiffs to receive “exemplary” damages, which would have raised the final dollar amount of the judgment considerably.
The trial is expected to last through the week, and, according to some court officials, could run into the following week.

Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at citydesk@bigspringherald.com

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