Lawsuit filed against entities estates say responsible for 2012 explosion

Lawsuit filed against entities estates say responsible for 2012 explosion

Source:, March 4, 2014
By: Emmalee C. Torisk

Executors of the estates of Ken Stiver and Gary Wilson have filed a lawsuit against 10 companies and corporations — including the city of Struthers — they say are responsible for the March 1, 2012, waste-treatment plant explosion that resulted in the men’s deaths.

The lawsuit, which also involves 20 other parties not named, was filed Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court by the widows, Christine M. Stiver and Julia E. Wilson, represented by Brian Kopp and Renee M. DiSalvo of Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC.

“These families endured a horrific tragedy that was entirely preventable … had there been the proper design and safety precautions taken,” Kopp said. “Had the proper steps been taken, these two men would still be with us, with their families.”

Kopp declined to comment on the amount sought by the lawsuit, though it requests “compensatory damages for the plaintiffs” in excess of $25,000.

Named in the lawsuit are Siemens Industry Inc. of Cleveland; University Electric Inc. of Youngstown; Western Reserve Mechanical Inc. of Youngstown; Environmental Design Group LLC of Akron; Gardner Denver Nash LLC of Cleveland; Atara Incorporated of Hawthorne, N.J.; Atara Equipment Ltd. of Hawthorne, N.J.; A.P. O’Horo Co. of Youngstown; MS Consultants Inc. of Columbus; and the city.

“We respectfully disagree with the allegations that the city is liable,” said Mayor Terry Stocker. “In fact, the city has sued various companies we believe may be responsible for the tragic explosion. Because the matter is in suit, we will have no further comment at this time.”

The lawsuit says that in 2009, the city received about $4 million in funding assistance from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for a construction project designed to convert methane gas into electrical power, which then would be used to operate the waste-treatment plant.

For this project, the city entered into a contract with MS Consultants to provide design, engineering, bidding and construction services — including the “design plans for the modifications necessary to collect, pressurize and convert the methane gas produced in the primary gas digester” of the waste-treatment plant. MS Consultants also designed plans for the replacement of the pre-existing methane-gas line and waste-gas burner, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further details that A.P. O’Horo served as the city’s general contractor, while Western Reserve Mechanical and the Environmental Design Group also provided various services for the project.

The methane gas-conversion project was completed in October 2011.

The lawsuit claims, however, that on March 1, 2012, “a combustible-gas detection device was either not present or not operating properly” in the upper level of the anaerobic digester control building, as “a potentially explosive atmospheric concentration of methane gas” had accumulated there.

The detection device, which is required by federal law, did not “transmit the required warning,” so Stiver, 57, the plant’s lead maintenance employee, and Wilson, 59, an assistant maintenance worker at the plant, were assigned to “repair a faulty control valve connected to a compressed methane gas line” housed in the building’s upper level.

While working on wiring there, a spark ignited the buildup of methane gas, causing the explosion.

As a result, Stiver suffered burns on 70 percent of his body, and died April 19, 2012, while Wilson suffered burns on 90 percent of his body, and died March 29, 2012.

The lawsuit also notes that federal law requires “explosion-proof” volt-meters to be used in classified areas where hazardous material is stored, but that the city did not provide Stiver and Wilson with warning of the dangerous conditions or with the required voltmeter. Instead, a voltmeter “not approved for use in a potentially explosive atmosphere” was supplied.

In addition, the city provided Stiver and Wilson with uninsulated tools to repair energized fixed electrical switches, though federal law requires “the use of insulated tools while working on or near exposed energized electrical conductors or circuit parts.”

“All defendants had a duty to use ordinary and reasonable care in the design, construction and maintenance of the treatment facility,” the lawsuit explains.

The city of Struthers and its insurance company, Ohio Plan Risk Management Inc., also filed a lawsuit Thursday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court against eight companies and 20 other parties not named. Those named were A.P. O’Horo Co., Gardner Denver Nash LLC, University Electric Inc., MS Consultants Inc., Siemens Industry Inc., Environmental Design Group LLC, Western Reserve Mechanical Inc., and Atara Incorporated.

Stocker said in a statement last week that these companies “may be responsible for the tragic explosion,” and that the city is “seeking reimbursement for the sums … paid out as a result of that explosion.” He declined to offer a specific amount.

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