Second suit claims negligence in fatal IP explosion|[06/17/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Company responds to first, denies fault in accident

A lawsuit filed Monday is the second to say International Paper was negligent in events leading to a blast on May 3 at the Mississippi 3 plant that killed one man and injured 17 others.

The suit, filed by attorney William M. Quin of Jackson on behalf of brothers Robert T. “Terry” and Kenneth Townsend, comes one business day after IP responded to the first such lawsuit.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The Townsends, who remain in critical condition in Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga., suffered “severe, debilitating and permanent personal injuries in the explosion,” the suit says.

The Townsends’ suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Two other people injured in the explosion, whose names have not been released, also remain at the hospital, one in critical condition and one listed as stable, a hospital spokesman said this morning.

In response to the first lawsuit, filed on May 14, IP denied all accusations of negligence.

That suit was filed in Warren County Circuit Court by attorney Robert F. Wilkins on behalf of 52-year-old Glen Rankin of Claiborne County, who was a contract employee injured in the explosion. In the suit seeking $1 million and punitive damages, Rankin said he was slammed backward into a wall when the boiler exploded. On the night of the blast, he was treated and released from River Region Medical Center.

In its response, IP says Rankin “may have failed to exercise reasonable care for his own safety at and immediately prior to the time of the occurrence of his injury,” and that he “is barred from recovering any damages that could have been avoided by mitigation.”

The Townsend brothers were industrial insulators employed by M-Co Inc. and also were working on the exterior of the boiler at the time of the explosion. The recovery boiler had been taken off-line for routine service, maintenance and repairs as the Townsends and others performed their work.

The legal complaint said the explosion was caused when the boiler was “negligently and recklessly ignited” while it contained combustible gas. The document also claims that the boiler and certain parts were defective and improperly maintained.

In addition to International Paper, the Rankin suit defendants include 20 unknown “John Does” who were involved in the design, manufacture, testing, maintenance and repair of the boiler.

Killed in the explosion was 28-year-old Marcus Christopher Broome, who had a wife and twin 4-year-old daughters. Like the Townsends, Broome was an industrial insulator with M-Co. Inc.

About 400 people, including IP’s 306 regular employees, were at the mill when the boiler exploded.

The IP explosion came about two weeks before the sixth anniversary of a deadly blast at the Rouse Polymerics plant on U.S. 61 South. Five people were killed and seven injured.