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Widow Says Ashland Caused Husband’s Death

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - Ashland, a Fortune 500 chemical company, sent a man into a 5,000-gallon heptane fuel tank, telling him it had been empty for 6 months; but it actually had been drained the day before and the man lay in the toxic fumes for hours until his body was found, his widow claims in Davidson County Court.

Malvia Dugan says Ashland's failure to air out the tank and its violation of multiple OSHA regulations caused her husband's wrongful death.

Dugan says her husband was told the tank had been empty for six months, but actually had been drained of gas the day before he was told to scrub the rust out of it.

"Per the instructions of defendant delivered via electronic mail, among other directions, Mr. Dugan was to 'Clean tone 5000 gals. Tank (rust). Tanks have been empty for six months,'" the complaint states.

On the day he arrived, Dugan was trained for only half an hour, and was never given a mandatory written quiz, his widow says.

After completing a "Confined Space Entry Permit" that did not list an authorized attendant to help Dugan, he entered the tank unaware that the fuel had just been drained.

"On February 2, 2010 sometime after the issuance of the permit, Mr. Dugan tested the oxygen, flammability and carbon monoxide levels in Tank-9B and listed the material in tank 9-B to be 'water,'" the complaint states.

"Mr. Dugan thereupon entered the tank, and upon reaching near the bottom of the tank, was exposed to toxic levels of heptane gas and died.

"Sometime around 3:00 p.m. on February 2, 2010, approximately three hours past the expiration of the permit, an employee of defendant finally noticed that Mr. Dugan was missing and searched the tank yard, finding Mr. Dugan at the bottom of Tank 9-B."

Tank 9-B had been drained of the toxic gas one day before Dugan entered it, according to the complaint.

Dugan's widow says, "Defendant had a duty to plaintiff to ensure that all safety requirements were in place to protect individuals from harmful exposure to hazardous chemicals on their premises, including, but not limited to, the duty to train people to the dangers presented by specific chemicals within their control, the duty to provide adequate personnel to supervise or monitor people such as plaintiff during their potential exposure to said chemical, the duty to provide adequate safeguards to ensure that people exposed to harmful chemicals will be discovered and treated promptly, and the duty to enact adequate safeguards to ensure that access to emergency or response personnel will arrive timely."

She says Ashland violated OSHA requirements for a permit-confined space, and failed to properly ventilate the tank, provide communication equipment, protective equipment or emergency equipment, among other OSHA requirements.

She seeks punitive damages for negligence, reckless conduct and wrongful death.

She is represented by James Higgins with Higgins, Himmelberg and Piliponis.

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