$11,700,000 – Explosion Kills 3 Workers, Injures 8 Others

On Jan. 25, 2005, plaintiff’s decedents Vasquez, Morillo, and Perez and plaintiffs Gomez-Pena; Colon, Jiminez-Lazala; Morillo; Olivares; Rosario-Pena, 38, Tejada, and Yona, were working at Acetylene Services Co., when an explosion occurred inside a wooden shed that was heated to keep pipes from freezing.

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 freezing.

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 backflow of acetylene gas. The families claimed that Greentree Consulting Inc., which 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 settlement.

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