Contract Workers Allege They Heard Noise 30-45 Minutes Before Explosion

Updated: September 05, 2018 10:28 PM

Seven contract workers who say they were injured in the April 26 Husky Oil Refinery explosion and fire have filed a civil lawsuit against Husky, alleging they heard a "strange knocking noise" 30 to 45 minutes before the explosion but were told to return to work.

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The plaintiffs, six men from Texas and one man from Louisiana, were working for Evergreen North America and Jamar Contractors, Inc.  The complaint says Husky had contracted with the companies to perform a "turnaround" operation at the Superior refinery involving extensive maintenance on the refinery's machinery.  Neither Evergreen North America nor Jamar Contractors, Inc., were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The civil complaint alleges that, "As they were performing their work, Plaintiffs heard a strange knocking noise.  Plaintiffs and other employees rushed out of the refinery, fearing that the refinery was unsafe.  However, the Husky Defendants' employees re-issued Plaintiffs' work permits and instructed them to return to the Refinery to continue the turnaround maintenance."

The complaint goes on to say that when the explosion occurred, the plaintiffs were "showered with debris and shrapnel from the explosion" and were "forced to run for their lives to escape the inferno."

It has been previously reported that according to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 36 people sought medical attention, with eleven injuries considered recordable under Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.  The ongoing fire forced tens of thousands of people in Superior and areas south of the city to evacuate for the night.

The complaint, filed August 17 in Douglas County Circuit Court, seeks a jury trial.  The amount of damages being sought is not specified, other than that it is in excess of $10,000.

The plaintiffs say they suffered "substantial injuries and burns" and have suffered "severe mental pain and anguish."  It says the plaintiffs' severe fear and anguish has led to physical manifestations including insomnia, nausea, and disruption of work and family relationships.

The plaintiffs allege that Husky failed to properly secure and maintain refinery equipment, failed to properly train its personnel and operators, failed to provide adequate safety equipment, and violated applicable rules, standards, and regulations for the work being performed at the time of the incident, among other allegations.  The complaint says the defendants' actions or omissions amount to gross negligence.

Besides Husky, the suit personally names refinery manager Kollin Schade and safety and security manager John O'Brien, as well as the refinery's former owner, Calumet Specialty Products.  Husky completed its purchase of the refinery five months before the explosion.

The complaint alleges that Calumet "knew of the hazardous nature of the refinery" when it was sold to Husky.  

The plaintiffs are Dunta Pickett, Theodore Jackson II, Vincent Minello, Fernando Flores, Kevin Johnson, Brandon Wallace, and Ryan Cooper.

This complaint is separate from a federal class-action lawsuit filed by several residents.  The Duluth News Tribune reported that the plaintiffs in the federal case argue that Husky displayed negligence, nuisance, trespass on land.

Husky said in July that the explosion and fire caused $27 million in damage and led to $53 million in expenses.  The refinery is not expected to resume normal operations until 2020 at the earliest.

The federal investigation into the explosion and fire is still underway.  Responding to requests for comment about both lawsuits, a Husky spokesperson said the company is cooperating fully with the agencies investigating the incident but said it would not be appropriate to comment on a matter before the courts.

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