ComDust victim awarded $39.7 million

Photo By Jason Morrison

HOUSTON - The victim of a 2014 combustible dust accident at the Georgia-Pacific plywood plant in Corrigan, Texas, has been awarded $39.744 million by a Houston jury for injuries sustained in the blast that killed two men and injured four others.

Ralph Figgs sustained second and third degree burns to his head, both arms, hands and back, as well as brain damage from the heat to his skull, in the April 26, 2014, explosion at Georgia-Pacific's Corrigan mill. His attorney says he has also been diagnosed with PTSD. The blast, which also killed Kenny Morris, and Charles Kovar, both of Lufkin, Texas, occurred when a 25-foot tall baghouse for sawdust collection outside the main manufacturing plant exploded.

The April 11 jury award of $39.744 million includes a verdict of $33.129 million and a prejudgment interest total of $6.624 million.

“This verdict sends a strong message that the public will not tolerate companies that design flawed products and deny responsibility. You can’t cut corners when it comes to people’s lives,” said Figgs' lawyer Kyle Findley, of Houston-based law firm Arnold & Itkin LLP.

The suit claimed the wood dust collection system, which included a spark detection and suppression system, failed to meet numerous industry standards set by the National Fire Protection Association and FM Global The jury assigned 51 percent of the fault to Aircon Inc., the company which designed and installed the dust collection system, 26 percent to GreCon, manufacturer of the spark detection and suppression system, and the remaining 23 percent to Georgia-Pacific, according to a press release from Vincent Mediaworks on behalf of Arnold & Itkin.

The release states defendants Aircon and GreCon "argued that the explosion was solely due to Georgia-Pacific’s failure to train their employees on the hazards associated with the dust collection system, as well as emergency procedures to address a fire in the dust collection system. The defendants also blamed third parties not present at trial for failing to perform proper inspections, as well as the failure of other apparent safety systems.

"Plaintiff argued and proved that the explosion and deflagration occurred due to a defective design of the system, and the defendants' failure to warn the plant, including the workers, of hazards associated to the system."

A 2014 OSHA investigation of the explosion resulted in fines to G-P of approximately $14,000 for two serious violations, including the lack of a choke between the sander dust collector and silo leading to the briquetter, dust collector bags which impeded the venting area of the dust collector deflagration vents, and a lack of measures in place "to protect employees from the fireball path."

G-P acquired the Corrigan plywood mill from International Paper in 2007.

The case, Ralph Figgs v. Georgia Pacific Wood Products South LLC et al, was heard by Judge Michael Gomez in the 129th Judicial District Court, Harris County, Texas.

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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at [email protected]