Invista faces two injury lawsuits

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

July 12, 2014 at 2:12 a.m.
Updated July 13, 2014 at 2:13 a.m.

The plaintiff's attorney, James Nebout, submitted to the court the above photo, which was taken at Invista by OSHA a day after a heat exchanger exploded.

The plaintiff's attorney, James Nebout, submitted to the court the above photo, which was taken at Invista by OSHA a day after a heat exchanger exploded.

A major Crossroads employer is facing two injury lawsuits in federal court.

Five Wilbros contractors claim they were injured during a heat exchanger explosion at Invista’s C12 unit May 9, 2013.

Invista, meanwhile, wrote in court documents that Larry Shuler, Jennifer Shuler, Michael Wright, Jose Arroyo and Patrick Johnson assumed the risks, and their injuries were the result of an “unforeseeable accident.”

Invista added their claims are barred by Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code, which stipulates a property owner cannot be held liable for contractors’ injuries unless he or she controls the manner in which their work is performed or has knowledge of the danger that resulted in the

injury and failed to adequately warn him or her.

However, James Nebout, of Texas City, said that because the Wilbros contractors – his clients – were not directly working on the heat exchanger that exploded but were injured anyway, that provision does not apply.

Amy Hodges, an Invista spokeswoman, declined to comment about the pending litigation.

“Invista’s first priority is to operate our facilities in a manner that is safe and protective of our employees, contractors and the communities in which we operate,” she wrote via email.

May 9, 2013, Hodges described the incident as a glitch during routine maintenance.

She said then that it caused a loud noise and that no one was seriously injured, according to an earlier report.

The day of the explosion, the Wilbros contractors were working on a stainless steel tank being built from the ground up.

The tank was on a temporary foundation of pea gravel, and some of the contractors were welding both in and outside of it.

Nebout did not know how far away the tank was from the heat exchanger that exploded about 8:40 a.m., “but it was close enough that when it blew up, it shook the whole vessel and knocked people off of where they were working,” he said Thursday.

Their employer drove them to a hospital afterward, and some injuries were serious enough to later require back surgery, he said.

Nebout filed documents in the court record to show the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stopped by Invista, 2695 Old Bloomington Highway, a day after the explosion, but Invista did not receive any violations for the incident.

No citations were issued, U.S. Department of Labor spokesman Juan Rodriguez wrote via email.

Nebout said his next step will be to begin exchanging documents with Invista and eventually conducting depositions.

Nebout has about 22 years of experience in personal injury litigation, including representing those affected by the Deepwater Horizon Explosion.

“I think that these lawsuits have a remedial effect. OSHA and the Chemical Safety Board are good entities, but they are run thin and have to pick and choose,” he said. “You’re not supposed to blow anything up. ... When something like that happens, either procedures, people or equipment have gone wrong. If we can identify it and correct it, it helps everyone in the future.”

In a separate lawsuit, Tranquilino Rios Garcia III, of Mission, is seeking $1 million in damages.

Employed by Hidalgo Power Inc., or Plant N. Power, as a crane rigger, Garcia claims that Dec. 19, his right arm was burned by hot water and/or steam when an Invista employee turned on a pipe for a boiler he was working on.

OSHA does not have a record of the incident, Rodriguez wrote.

Garcia’s attorney, Michael J. Cisneros, could not be reached for comment.

Invista is a subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc. and employs about 600 people locally, according to an earlier report.



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