DALLAS (CN) — Survivors and relatives of 32 people killed at a catastrophic chemical plant explosion in southern Mexico have sued Fluor, the engineering and construction giant, accusing it of knowing about its “horrendous safety record” at the plant.
Lead plaintiff Maria Gope and 52 other named plaintiffs sued Irving, Texas-based Fluor in Dallas County Court on Friday for negligence and gross negligence. They claim the April 2016 explosion at the Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinilo chemical plant came after Fluor knew that “flammable materials, including chlorine and ethanol, had been escaping from tanks and pipes” at the plant. Hundreds more people were injured in the blast.
“(Y)et they did nothing to shut down the facility so that the unsuspecting workers did not into what was essentially a ticking time bomb,” the 17-page complaint states. “In fact, the safety aspects for this work were being run and directed out of the defendants’ Houston area office. Defendants were also aware that the facility’s aged equipment and infrastructure had a history of failures; and that the site had a long history of catastrophic accidents.”
Fluor did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment sent after office hours Monday.
The plaintiffs say Fluor ignored red flags such as leaking gas pipes and ordered employees to continue with construction work. They say the plant is jointly owned by two other companies and that the plant entered into a $205 million contract with ICA-Fluor to increase output capacity. ICA-Fluor is a joint venture between the defendant and Empresas ICA, a Mexican holding company, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs claim ICA-Fluor does not have a management team but is controlled by the defendant’s executives in Texas. They say Fluor acknowledged the explosion as the worst accident in company history.
The plaintiffs are represented by Tony Buzbee of Houston. He told Courthouse News he is representing 119 plaintiffs – 29 killed, 90 injured, mostly with burns. He said claims on behalf of 63 of those clients were filed in Los Angeles.
“We believe this to be a landmark case.,” Buzbee said Monday evening. “It is manifestly wrong for a U.S. company to make decisions in the U.S. and control operations here and yet when people are killed and horribly burned claim they can’t be sued in the U.S. because the injuries and deaths occurred outside the U.S.
“It is also important to note that we attempted to file these cases against Fluor in Mexico and all were dismissed by the Mexican courts. Where else but the U.S. can these people seek redress?”
He said a related, pending case in Dallas has been going for over a year.
“That client remains in the burn unit in Galveston,” he said.