Texas woman seeks damages from owner of exploded fertilizer plant

A housing complex, destroyed by a deadly fertilizer plant explosion, is pictured in the town of West, near Waco, Texas, April 21, 2013.
A housing complex, destroyed by a deadly fertilizer plant explosion, is pictured in the town of West, near Waco, Texas, April 21, 2013.
Michael Ainsworth/REUTERS/Pool

A West, Texas, resident has filed what could be the first of many victim-led lawsuits against the owner of the fertilizer plant which exploded last week, killing 14 and injuring 200 people. Andrea Gutierrez, who lost her home and nearly all of her physical possessions in the explosion, is seeking damages from Adair Grain, Inc. as compensation for loss of property and “physical as well as emotional injuries,” according to a statement from the firm representing her case.

Randy Roberts, Gutierrez’s attorney, said that the explosion was almost certainly a result of Adair Grain’s negligence.

“This kind of explosion doesn’t happen if everything’s going right,” he told msnbc. “The explosion itself is the best evidence that something was done wrong.”

West Fertilizer Co., the exploded plant owned by Adair Grain, was fined $2,300 by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 for lacking a satisfactory risk management plan. In February, a fire at the plant forced a local middle school to evacuate, though in 2006 the plant’s management told investigators there was no risk of a fire or explosion on the property. The plant does not even appear to have had a sprinkler system.

While some residents of West, Texas, have begun to return home, Gutierrez and many others have nowhere to which they can return. Roberts said Gutierrez, who is currently staying in a motel in Waco, Texas, saw her apartment and nearly all of her physical possessions obliterated by the explosion.

“She and her son lost everything down to her drivers’ license,” he said.

Gutierrez was lucky enough to not be in her apartment at the time of the explosion, said Roberts, because she had stepped outside right before the plant detonated. She was standing on the side of the building which did not face the plant. Her son, 14, was at the local church at the time and was therefore uninjured. However, everything Gutierrez and her son owned inside the apartment is now gone.

“Her personal possessions on this day amount to what she was wearing when she walked out to see what was going on,” said Roberts.

While Gutierrez sustained only minor physical injuries, “her emotional injuries are going to be long lasting,” he added. “She recounted to me several things she saw after the explosion that she’d like to forget,” including witnessing children get wounded by the blast.

Though Gutierrez’s lawsuit is the first to be filed against Adair Grain in the aftermath of the explosion, other West, Texas, residents are nearly certain to seek damages from the company in the coming weeks. While a Friday statement from Adair promised that the company was “working closely with investigating agencies,” it did not say whether it would be providing any assistance to residents displaced or injured by the explosion. Roberts claimed they had not yet provided any assistance.

“I don’t know if Adair has the money or insurance to cover everybody’s damages, but they need to be held accountable,” he said. He also claimed that he and Gutierrez felt compelled to sue the company because its owner has still not claimed responsibility for the blast.

Adair Grain, Inc.did not respond to a request for comment.