A Second Lawsuit is Filed Following Mobile River Barge Explosions

On April 24, 2013, a fire was left raging after a barge exploded on the east side of the Mobile River in Alabama. The blasts caused damage to nearby buildings and sent three workers to the hospital in critical condition.

A second lawsuit has been filed after three men were injured when two barges exploded in the Mobile River.

Mobile County Conservator, J. Gregory Carwie, was appointed to manage the affairs of one of the injured workers, George Erickson, and filed a lawsuit last week in Mobile County Circuit Court against four companies. It is seeking unspecified damages.

Erickson and Benoit were cleaning the barges when the Coast Guard says something sparked, causing the explosions. Casey Tyson was working on the dock nearby.

All three men were rushed to USA Medical Center with severe burns.

This lawsuit comes after another injured workers’ suit has been filed. Casey Tyson was working one of the electronics systems of a tugboat, which was near the two barges. After he received treatment at the University of South Alabama (USA), he was transferred to a burn center in Dallas, which is closer to his home.

Doctors at USA Medical Center have upgraded the conditions of Erickson and a third victim, Justin Benoit, to serious.

Erickson suffered second- and third-degree burns over more than 50 percent of his body and “remains under constant sedation and is presently unable to manage his affairs due to the catastrophic nature of his injuries,” according to the most recent civil complaint.

As a result of this, the Mobile County Probate Court appointed Carwie to make decisions regarding Erickson’s estate. The plaintiff’s attorney felt it was the most expedient way to get the lawsuit filed quickly, and believed it could preserve certain claims had Erickson died.

The conservator is charged with making financial decisions on behalf of orphans or incapacitated people who cannot manage their own affairs. Erickson has been unconscious for much of the time since the explosions of April 24th. It was reported that in just the last day or two, he has regained consciousness.

According to the lawsuit, Erickson was working for Oil Recovery Co. of Alabama, which was hired to clean two oil barges at its facility off of Dunlap Drive. Benoit was working for AEP River Operations, a Chesterfield, Missouri company that was operating the tugboat between the two barges.

Tyson filed a lawsuit last week against several of the companies in Carwie’s complaint, including Kirby Inland Marine.

In addition to AEP, the lawsuit names D&S Marine Service, a Houma, Louisiana company that was responsible for towing the barges; Kirby Inland Marine, a Houston company that owned the barges; and OCRA Inc., which owns the land that Oil Recovery Co. leases for its operations.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the two barges that burst into flames were mostly empty at the time of the explosions. Lt. Mike Clausen, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Mobile, said that the barges had only residual fuel but were “full of vapors.” That actually is the most dangerous situation, Clausen said, because liquid fuel is less flammable. He explained that when a can of gasoline catches fire, it actually is the vapors coming of the liquid that burn, he said. “It’s more common to have that (an explosion) from vapors than from actual product,” he said. “The safest barges are ones that are filled with product.”

The fire reportedly burned for six hours.

Amy Husted, vice president of Kirby Inland Marine, the Texas Company that owned the barges, said in an email that each of the barges had a capacity of approximately 30,000 barrels. She said Oil Recovery Co. was cleaning them in preparation for their next trip.

A thorough investigation is being done regarding the cause of the multiple explosions by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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