Valero Energy has settled one of two wrongful death cases filed against the company after two men suffocated inside a reactor tower at the Delaware City refinery in 2005. The settlement agreement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The agreement, the terms of which were not disclosed, affected only the case filed by survivors of boilermaker John A. Lattanzi. Pre-trial activities are continuing in the case of another boilermaker John Ferguson, who died in the incident.

The families of both men accused the company of failing to provide the workers with warnings that they would be working on top of a refining tower filled with nitrogen gas. There have been similar problems at other Valero refineries. The company was accused of neglecting safety while rushing the refining system back into service to take advantage of high fuel prices.

Investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded that Ferguson was overcome by the gas while attempting to fish a roll of duct tape from the reactor using a length of wire. Lattanzi died while trying to aid his co-worker. Valero had taken control of the refinery from Premcor only a few weeks before the accident. A CSB report blamed the deaths in part on “inadequate” warnings and barriers around an opening in the tank where the men died. The investigation also concluded that managers failed to give the workers adequate written notice of the suffocation hazard.

There have been destruction of evidence claims against Valero and disputes over expert testimony. Valero filed suit in state and federal court earlier seeking access to tens of millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damage insurance coverage in connection with the two claims. The disappearance of critical evidence and delays in production of other requested discovery items were also questioned.

Source: (Delaware) News Journal

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