A Nebraska state jury awarded $108.9 million to Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., last month, finding ConAgra Foods Inc. negligent and responsible for causing a 2009 North Carolina plant explosion that killed four workers. After a four-week trial and less than four hours of deliberation, the jury found that Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra and a company it controlled, Energy Systems Analysts. Inc., negligently caused the natural gas explosion at a Slim Jim factory in North Carolina.

The jury determined that ConAgra was 70 percent responsible for the accident with ESA being responsible for the remainder.

Jacobs, which had a contract with ConAgra to perform services at the plant, filed the breach-of-contract suit seeking indemnification from ConAgra in connection with $108.9 million Jacobs paid to settle various wrongful death and personal injury suits. A Nebraska state judge had previously determined that the agreement signed by the parties required ConAgra to compensate Jacobs if ConAgra was found to be negligent.

The accident occurred during the installation of a new gas-fired industrial water heater that was manufactured by ESA, according to federal regulators. The explosion caused four deaths and injured 67 people, including three with life-threatening burns and one that required an amputation. ConAgra had asserted that it wasn’t responsible for the explosion and that ESA’s removal of a sediment trap from a gas line caused the blast and that it didn’t control ESA. ConAgra also claimed that the settlements paid by Jacobs were not for reasonable amounts and were not made in good faith.

The jury cleared Jacobs, determining that it settled the various lawsuits in good faith and that the settlement amounts were objectively reasonable. A ConAgra spokesman said the company plans to appeal. The case is in the Nebraska District Court of Douglas County.

Source: Claims Journal

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