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Jury clears Formosa in plant explosion

By Sonny Long
April 3, 2009 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated April 2, 2009 at 11:03 p.m.


PORT LAVACA - A Calhoun County jury refused this week to award damages to seven people who claimed to be injured in the October 2005 explosion and fire at the Formosa plant in Point Comfort.

The seven - Ernest Belmarez, Eddie Guajardo, William Phillips, Norma Mayorga and Raul Saenz Jr. of Port Lavaca, and Chris Shannon and Ramico Ramos of Victoria - were "part of a larger group seeking north of $50 million" from Formosa and four other defendants, according to a Formosa news release.

"It was a long, hard-fought battle, and we're all disappointed," said Sean Greenwood of Christian, Smith and Jewel of Houston, who represented the plaintiffs. "I felt like our clients were hurt and deserved an award, but I respect the jury system. We are deciding whether we want to appeal."

The plaintiffs, none of whom were employed by Formosa, alleged they received serious back injuries and suffered psychological damage as a result of the fire. They also claimed "post traumatic stress disorder" and sued for pain and mental anguish, loss of wages and medical expense, according to the news release.

The jury voted against awarding any damages to any of the plaintiffs.

"It was a hard-fought trial. We are relieved the jury did not find any of these alleged injuries were caused by the fire at Formosa," Frank Wedig with Formosa Legal Services said in the news release.

The claims stemmed from an incident Oct. 6, 2005, when a contractor's employees backed a forklift with a trailer into a valve, causing a release of propylene gas. The gas ignited and a fire with open-air explosions followed.

Two lawsuits were filed against Formosa as a result of the fire with more than 1,100 claimants. This trial will serve as a test case to help the parties resolve the remaining claims. There is the possibility of additional trials, according to the news release.

Co-defendants in the case were Fernando Rivero, HP Services, U.S. Contractors, Kellogg-Brown and Root. District Judge Stephen Williams presided over the month-long trial at the Calhoun County courthouse.

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