PHILADELPHIA, PA (February 24, 2011) – Four local ironworkers, all suffering injuries from exposure to hydrofluoric acid (HF) in March 2009, are alleging that Sunoco and its subcontractors knew the long troubled South Philadelphia Refinery’s Unit 433 was an accident waiting to happen and failed to protect them from harm.
The workers, James Jamison, Eric Konopka, Gerald McGoldrick, and Jamie Miceli, members of the same specialized maintenance crew assigned to the Unit during a service “shutdown”, describe the harrowing March 11, 2009 leak of potentially lethal acid in a negligence and willful misconduct Complaint recently filed (Case Number 002256) in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Sunoco, Inc., Nooter Construction Company, the general contractor, and CIC Group, Inc., Nooter’s parent company.
While the workers knew the Unit was a work environment requiring special precautions when operational, they were told by refinery supervisors that since it was shut down and depressurized, they would be safe without having to even bring external breathing apparatus, or wear enhanced protective clothing. Such measures are required when the unit is operational. “Sunoco and its contractors knowingly subjected the crew to a potentially deadly workplace,” said plaintiff’s counsel Larry Bendesky, Esq., of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, PC. “Given the unit’s deplorable safety history, it is not surprising there was a serious acid leak. It is a miracle nobody was killed.”
(Apart from the litigation, the refinery and its HF unit is the subject of a new ABC News and Center for Public Integrity investigative series starting today examining safety issues at the nation’s refineries.)
Jamison, a member of Ironworkers Union, Local 401, along with his co-workers, was reinforcing steel when something went terribly wrong. He recalled in between respiratory therapy treatments, “I could taste the sour acid in my throat and I thought I was going to die. Everything went dark; I was choking for air, and all I could think of was that with two young kids I wasn’t ready to die.” He has not returned to work since and a team of doctors is treating him for internal and external injuries, including pulmonary and coronary irregularities. Once a strapping ironworker accustomed to scaling heights and carrying heavy loads, daily household chores are now exhausting.
He and the other plaintiffs, who also have not returned to work after the incident, say they turned to the courts in hopes that Sunoco will not subject other workers to the same hazards at the refinery. “The plaintiffs are skilled, proud safety-conscious ironworkers whose lives have been changed forever through the negligence of the defendants,” explained Brian Fritz, Esq., of SMB. “They’ve lost faith in Sunoco but not in the American justice system.”
“This was not a fluke accident, but part of a pattern of negligence dating back decades at that unit,” said co-counsel David W. Fine, Esq., of Fine & Staud, LLP. “The public record clearly shows that for just the period 2004 to 2006 there were more than 210 active acid leaks in that unit. Sunoco knew how to stop the problem, but that required using a higher grade of steel and they just didn’t want to spend the extra money. These men almost lost their lives just so the defendants could save a few dollars.”
The attorneys noted that the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Sunoco for safety violations following the leak. And Sunoco is appealing the notices.
Contact: Stephan Rosenfeld
email@example.com / 215.514.4101
(for plaintiffs’ counsel)