The family of a man who was killed in a Blue Island refinery explosion 14 years ago has reached a $6 million settlement with the refinery’s operator. A Cook County judge approved the settlement between the family of Gary Szabla and Clark USA Inc., now called Premcor. The settlement awards the victim’s widow $6 million in addition to the workers’ compensation benefits she has already received. This settlement ends a 12-year legal battle that reached the Illinois Supreme Court. Szabla, 37, and a co-worker, Michael Forsythe, were killed on March 13, 1995 when a fire triggered an explosion at the Clark Oil refinery. Three others were injured in the blast. The families of the two workers filed wrongful death lawsuits.
A Cook County judge initially followed Clark USA’s claim that, because it had no direct control over day-to-day operations at the refinery, the company could not be sued. The company also claimed it was shielded from a lawsuit by Illinois’ workers’ compensation law. But the Plaintiff’s lawyer responded by saying that the explosion resulted from severe budget cuts that resulted in refinery employees doing maintenance jobs they weren’t trained for. The Illinois Appellate Court overturned the Cook County judge’s decision, but Clark USA appealed to the state Supreme Court. The High Court in 2007 upheld the Appellate Court ruling, finding that the company could be held liable because it had direct control over the refinery’s operating budget.
The Supreme Court also said Clark USA wasn’t shielded by workers’ compensation law because it didn’t directly employ the two men who were killed. The settlement was reached in January, following a mediation session with a retired judge. Reportedly the lawsuit over Forsythe’s death is close to a settlement. After the explosion, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Clark Refining, the subsidiary that ran the refinery, $1.2 million, citing dozens of violations of workplace safety rules. Edward Willer, a lawyer with Corboy and Demetrio in Chicago, represented the Szabla family and did a very good job.
Source: Southtown Star
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