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Texas Jury awards $18.9 million wrongful death verdict

Posted on Mar 25, 2007

Jury awards $18.9 million wrongful death verdict against Dallas-based TXI By Pegasus News wire DALLAS — The widow of a man killed in an explosion at a TXI facility in Midlothian, Texas was awarded $18.9 million by a Dallas jury today, culminating a month-long trial. The jury deliberated for almost two days before returning the unanimous verdict against Dallas-based TXI, one of the nation's largest producers of bagged cement. Gordon Rutherford, 34, of Waxahachie, Texas, was killed in January 2003 while employed by Circle 4M Welding, a TXI contractor. According to the lawsuit filed by his wife, Amy, TXI directed Mr. Rutherford and a crew of three other welders to work in a location near an environmental scrubber that contained "extremely hazardous and flammable materials." During the course of the work, 5.5 tons of combustible plastics caught on fire and engulfed Mr. Rutherford. Following the explosion, a construction crane malfunctioned and left Mr. Rutherford suspended 90 feet above the ground and unable to reach safety. Photo not provided by TXI The jury deliberated for two days before handing down its verdict The suit claimed that TXI acted with negligence and recklessness in failing to warn Rutherford and the other welders of the danger in working in that area. The other workers sustained burn injuries of varying severity and one was hospitalized. During the trial, Mrs. Rutherford's attorneys alleged that TXI knew about the combustible nature of the plastic in the scrubber due to a previous incident 18 months earlier when the plastic overheated and melted. A representative of the plastic manufacturer testified that he had previously recommended that TXI replace the plastic in the scrubber with stainless steel for many reasons, including the danger of overheating. However, he said that given the additional costs involved TXI decided to reject his recommendation. In addition, attorneys pointed to the fact that plant safety managers were inexperienced in the safety issues involving large industrial plants, having never held a job in safety prior to being hired by TXI. "As a result of this verdict, industrial plants hopefully will understand the need to ensure they hire experienced safety professionals to overlook the operations of their facilities. Mrs. Rutherford hopes this verdict will save other lives," said Robert Lee of Dallas' Lee & Braziel, co-counsel for Mrs. Rutherford.

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