Two workers injured in a power plant explosion that killed six other people in 2010 cannot sue a contractor for negligence, the state Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled.
Justices issued a 6-1 decision saying O&G Industries of Torrington is immune from the lawsuit under state law because the contractor bore the cost of workers’ compensation benefits paid to the two employees, who worked for subcontractors. The ruling upheld a Superior Court judge’s decision.
The Supreme Court rejected arguments by the workers, James Thompson and James McVay, that O&G Industries didn’t actually bear the cost of the workers’ compensation benefits. The workers claimed O&G Industries passed on the expense to subcontractors through a contractor controlled insurance program (CCIP) for the major project and did not actually pay compensation benefits to the employees of its subcontractors, thus it was not entitled to “principal employer” immunity.
The explosion occurred during construction of the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown. Six workers were killed and about 50 others were injured.
Authorities said crews were using natural gas at high pressure to clean out pipes and something sparked an explosion. The state later banned the “gas blow” practice.
James Healy and Joel Faxon, lawyers for Thompson and McVay, wrote in the appeal to the Supreme Court that O&G was negligent because the gas blows were performed in an unventilated space with potential ignition sources including welding and heating.
They also wrote that a finding in favor of O&G Industries would essentially overturn a 1988 amendment to state law designed to protect workers by increasing requirements for lawsuit immunity.
Healy and Faxon didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Federal regulators fined several companies more than $16 million for 371 safety and workplace violations, but those penalties were later greatly reduced in agreements the contractors reached with the federal government.
Killed in the explosion were Raymond Dobratz Jr., 58, of Old Saybrook; Peter C. Chepulis, 48, of Thomaston; Ronald Crabb, 42, of Colchester; Chris Walters, 48, of Florissant, Missouri; Roy Rushton, of Hamilton, Ontario; and Kenneth Haskell, 37, of New Durham, New Hampshire.
O&G Industries settled lawsuits by relatives of the dead workers for undisclosed sums.
Thompson suffered head, back, neck and leg injuries, according to the appeal. McVay had injuries to his head, neck, face, knee and ear, including hearing loss. They still feel the effects of their injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the appeal says.
As of October 2013, Thompson had received about $104,000 in workers’ compensation benefits, and McVay had received about $6,500. They sought unspecified damages in the lawsuit.
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