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Chemical Plant Accidents: What You Can Do If You've Been Hurt

Made up of 9,000 companies producing 70,000 different products, the American chemical industry brings in $400 billion a year. The U.S. Department of Commerce has developed eight industrial classifications for this booming industry (the largest in the world):

  • Industrial inorganic chemicals
  • Plastics, materials, and synthetics
  • Drugs
  • Soap, cleaners, and toilet goods
  • Paints and allied products
  • Industrial organic chemicals
  • Agricultural chemicals
  • Miscellaneous chemical products 

With thriving petrochemical, industrial inorganics, and finished products such as detergents, paints, and medicinal preparations, Texas has the lion’s share of the country’s chemical plants. Big names like ARCO, DuPont, and Dow Chemical have taken up residence mainly along the Gulf Coast. However, Texas is dotted with chemical plants of all sizes across the state

Injuries from chemical accidents and chemical spills can be devastating — and deadly — to the employees of the plant. However, what makes industrial accidents at plants like these stand out is how dangerous they can be for people in the surrounding areas.

What Are the Dangers of Chemical Plants?

The dangers of chemical plants range from non-industry-specific workplace risks like slips, trips, and falls — which already result in 700 fatalities and many more injuries each year in the U.S. — to explosions that cause wide-ranging evacuations. The latter happened at the TPC Group Plant on Thanksgiving Day 2019.

Injuries from chemical plant accidents can also be caused by:

  • Gas leaks
  • Toxic gas exposure
  • Electric shock
  • Falls from high places
  • Falling objects
  • Eye injuries
  • Defective equipment
  • Burns and smoke inhalation
  • Cuts and broken bones

While the majority of injuries are riskiest for the more than 600,000 employees of the chemical industry in Texas, nearby residents also face the risk of fires, smoke inhalation, acute toxic gas exposure, water contamination, long-term chemical exposure, and property damage. A 2020 blast at a thermal spray coating manufacturer in northwest Houston that tragically killed two people also knocked nearby homes off their foundations, shattered windows and caved in roofs, and sent debris flying for half a mile.

Even when worksite injuries are not deadly, they can still be life-altering. Chemical plants, like construction sites, rely on employees’ use of heavy equipment in hazardous conditions. 

What Legal Recourse Is Available to People Injured in Chemical Plant Accidents?

Plant explosions are often big news — at the end of the day, even a single injury sustained in any kind of industrial accident carries just as much weight. If your injury was the result of someone else’s careless or reckless behavior, and you can prove it, you may have a valid personal injury claim. You must be able to prove the following:

  • Reasonable duty. The party that injured you owed you a reasonable duty. In the case of chemical plants, they are required to adhere to safety protocols and regulatory oversight
  • Breach of duty. The party that injured you breached that duty by acting in a negligent way, or by failing to act. 
  • Injury. Injuries can be physical, emotional, financial, or all of the above. You must have documented evidence of your injuries to move forward with a case.
  • Injury was caused by the breach of duty. The breach of duty caused your injuries. For example, if a negligent crane operator’s inattention causes you to fall from a platform, the crane operator breached their duty to safe working conditions, and that negligence has caused your injury. 

When you have sufficient evidence of the above items, you are likely to succeed in your claim. Our Austin personal injury law firm can review your specific situation and advise you on whether you have enough evidence to pursue a case against the negligent party — whether we ultimately represent you or not.

What Factors Impact Industrial Accident Cases?

Whether or not you can or should file a personal injury claim is determined by the unique circumstances of your situation and your desired outcome. Some factors that may impact either your decision to pursue a case or the amount of your compensation are:

  1. A workers’ compensation policy. If you are an injured employee of a chemical company and your injury was someone else’s fault, you will first want to find out if your company has purchased a workers’ compensation insurance policy. The state of Texas does not require private employers to purchase workers’ comp, but many large employers have some sort of policy or self-insure. If your company has government contracts for its products, it is required to have a policy. If your employee does offer workers’ comp, speaking to an attorney before filing your workers’ comp claim can help you decide which method of compensation is best for you. Once you file a workers’ comp claim, you are waiving your rights to file a lawsuit in most scenarios.
  2. A track record of unsafe practices. You may just happen to know that many of your colleagues have been injured before, or you may find your employer listed in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Severe Violator Enforcement Program. DuPont’s La Porte, Texas, plant was listed as a violator after a number of violations, including a supply line failure that released 20,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan, killing four employees.
  3. The number of responsible parties. In many workplace injuries, not just one person or entity is liable for the injury. When multiple parties are involved or there is an issue of respondeat superior (vicarious liability), the case can get more complicated. If you are more than 50 percent responsible for your injuries, you may not be able to file for workers’ compensation at all, and that percentage will be deducted from any judgment you are awarded for your claim.
  4. Impact to your future earnings. Even seemingly minor injuries can impact your ability to do the job you have been trained to do. A wrist fracture, for example, can lead to life-long carpal tunnel syndrome, impacting your ability to operate machinery, drive, or even perform administrative duties. 

How Do You Choose an Attorney for Your Case?

When you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, we suggest always acting on your right to consult an attorney, even if you’re not sure you want to file suit. FVF’s priority is to advocate for and educate people who have been injured, regardless of whether you hire us. We invite you to contact us for a no-cost, no-pressure case consultation.

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Fogelman & Von Flatern is a personal injury law firm that believes it matters why we practice law: to make sure good people in unfair circumstances who want reasonable options are taken seriously, especially by their attorney. We value transparency, compassion, and justice, and we strive to embody that in our practice. At FVF, you can trust that you've got the best people on your case, for the right reasons.

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