On Jan. 25, 2005, plaintiff's decedents
German Gonzalez Vasquez, Juan Pablo Morillo and Ynio Perez and
plaintiffs Yovanni Gomez-Pena; Daniel Colon, 57, a tank operator;
Manuel Jiminez-Lazala; TIrso Morillo; Leandro Olivares; Jose L.
Rosario-Pena, 38, a tank operator; Bienbenido Tejada, 38; and
Gabriel Yona, 49, a tank operator, were working at Acetylene
Services Co., located in Perth Amboy. Vasquez, Morillo, and Perez
were killed and eight others were injured when an explosion
occurred inside a wooden shed that was heated to keep pipes from
The plaintiffs' families sued Acetylene Services Co., the plant
operator; Custom Distribution Services of Perth Amboy, the property
owner; Louisville Tin & Stove, of Louisville, Ky., the heater
manufacturer; Rexarc Inc., which manufactures acetylene generating
machines and supplies specialty gas equipment for industrial
applications; and Greentree Consulting Inc., which had been at the
plant years earlier, on various theories of negligence and products
liability. Plaintiffs' experts opined that the explosion was caused
by a defective check valve that allowed acetylene gas to backflow
from a generator and into the wooden shed. There was an alternative
theory that propane gas was implicated. The gas, which had
accumulated inside the shed, was then ignited by a propane-fueled
space heater or a malfunction in one of the electrical components
inside the shed. The allegation against Rexarc International Inc.
was that it defectively designed its check valve so as to allow the
back flow of acetylene gas. The families claimed that Greentree
Consulting Inc., that had been at the plant years earlier, failed
to properly prepare a process hazard analysis. Acetylene Services
Co. was accused of multiple OSHA violations and it had filled the
propane tank only a few days before the explosion.
The 10 separate lawsuits were consolidated.
Each of the defendants denied the negligence and products
liability specifically attributed to them and through lengthy
settlement and mediation sessions sought to allocate the blame
based upon principles of risk analysis.
Vasquez, Morillo and Perez, were killed instantly, as they had
been working near the shed. Gomez-Pena was seriously injured. The
other seven men had been working inside an adjacent building and
incurred various degrees of injury.
A global settlement of all claims against all parties was finally
achieved for the sum of $11,700,000 after months of negotiations,
mediation with retired Federal Magistrate Judge Joel B. Rosen and a
settlement conference with Middlesex County Superior Court Judge
Jamie D. Happas. Mediator Joel Rosen, of Montgomery, McCracken,
Walker & Rhoads in Cherry Hill, headed negotiations for the
settlement, under which Rexarc will pay $10 million, Greentree
$750,000, Acetylene Supply $400,000, and Custom Distribution and
Louisville Tin & Stove $25,000 each.
The plaintiffs' employer, Acetylene Services' insurer waived its
$500,000 workers' compensation lien to effectuate the