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Beaver County, PA

This consolidated wrongful death/ survival action arose from the death of two workers in an explosion at the Potter Township, PA, zinc refinery in ________. The defendant at trial was the corporation responsible for rebuilding one of the refinery columns. The plaintiff alleged that the column was not properly constructed, clogged the flow of molten zinc, and caused the fatal explosion. The defendant argued that it performed the rebuild of the refinery column in accordance with industry standards, and that the cause of the back-up of zinc into the column was not known. The plaintiffs stipulated to release several defendants from the case after discovery showed they had no liability or causal connection with the explosion. A settlement was reached with another defendant prior to trial.

The two decedents were working at the zinc refinery on July 22, ________, when the explosion occurred. Evidence showed that the defendant corporation had rebuilt one of the refinery columns 12 days earlier. The plaintiff’s engineer opined that the defendant negligently left foreign material, in the nature of excessive refractory mortar, inside the column. The plaintiff contended that the refractory mortar clogged the flow of molten zinc during operations.

After 12 days of operation, the plaintiff claimed that the zinc flow began to back up into the super-heated column. The pressure caused by that back-up resulted in a massive explosion that took the lives of both decedents, according to the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiffs contended that their position was supported by post-explosion photographs, indicating the presence of loose and excessive mortar inside the column. The plaintiff’s forensic pathologist opined that the decedents experienced conscious pain and suffering in the nature of total body burns and smoke inhalation before they perished. The defense agreed that a back-up of zinc into the column led to the explosion. However, the defendant maintained that the rebuild of the refinery column was performed in accordance with industry standards, and that there was no conclusive evidence that excessive mortar caused the back-up of the zinc into the column.

The defense contended that the zinc back-up was a result of a blockage that had occurred in the very bottom of the column in an area identified as the “sump.” The defendant argued that this is an area where blockages can occur due to the molten zinc coming in contact with air before exiting the column, and is known to sometimes create a solid substance known as “dross.”

The defense also argued that the decedents died instantaneously in the explosion, and would not have experienced any conscious pain and suffering.A settlement was reached on the third day of trial in the amount of $________ for each of the plaintiff estates, for a total recovery of $________.

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