A lawyer representing victims of the April 17th explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas said Sunday he may move as soon as this week to name the State of Texas as a defendant in his lawsui, 1200 WOAI news has learned.
Jason Gibson of the Gibson Law Firm in Houston talked with 1200 WOAI news as attorneys representing victims in the case are being informed that the West Fertilizer Company had only $1 million in liability insurance coverage, a fraction of the estimated $100 million damage caused by the explosion, which left 14 people dead.
“That is unbelievable,” Gibson said of the million dollar liability limit. “That just rubs salt in my clients’ wounds.”
Gibson filed suit in McLennan County last month on behalf of a West couple which lost their home and suffered serious injuries in the explosion.
“The state has a responsibility to regulate facilities like that,” Gibson said. “The last time that site had been inspected was 1985, and there was no follow up. If the state had been doing its job, this might not have happened.”
A Legislative hearing last week revealed a confusing hodge-podge of regulations and lack of regulations of the West facility and the other 1100 plus facilities across the state which are licensed to hold ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in fertilizer and a high explosive which was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing.
Witnesses from various state agencies testified that what regulations do exist are geared more toward preventing ammonium nitrate and other chemicals from falling into the hands of criminals and terrorists than toward making sure they are stored safely.
Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzmann told the committee there is no state requirement that fertilizer plants be insured at all, and she said the coverage held by the West plant had “absolutely no relationship with the kind of risk the plant presented.”
Ironically, Texas law requires that motorists carry up to $100,000 in minimum liability insurance coverage in order to drive a vehicle on the state's roadways
Gibson said suing state governments presents a challenge due to immunity laws, but he said there are ‘exceptions,’ and he is confident those exceptions will apply in this case.
He said he also may ask that the incident be declared to have been a criminal act, so residents could receive compensation from the Texas Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which is administered by the attorney general to provide restitution for victims when no other sources of funding are available.
“We are going to pursue every option,” Gibson said. “If we feel the State of Texas is a legitimate defendant in this action, we are going to go after them.”