Our firm recently settled a very important death case. In April 2006, Steve Thrasher was employed at the Rock Tenn paper mill in Demopolis, Ala. He was sent to check the operation of one of the mill steam boilers. The subject boiler, roughly 30 feet square and 60 feet tall, was built and installed in the mid-1950s and had been in continuous operation for over 50 years. Although the ASME boiler code specifies that tubing of steam power boilers should be inspected regularly, portions of the subject boiler tubing were encased in a concrete-like material known as a refractory and were never inspected during the life of the boiler. The boiler inspection company hired to perform the annual inspections is recognized as a leader in boiler technology but it never utilized its own ultrasound or x-ray inspection technology on the boiler. Rather, the company simply relied on visual inspections of the portions of the boiler that were readily accessible. As a result, dangerously thin sections of steam tubing encased within the refractory were never discovered.
Unfortunately, as Steve Thrasher walked by the boiler one of the internal tubes failed and violently ruptured. The force of the tube failure blew a hole in the steel outer casing of the boiler and spewed superheated steam directly onto Steve. Somehow Steve managed to walk to the mill control room and was first transported to the local emergency room and then to the burn trauma unit at South Alabama in Mobile. Despite world class burn care, Steve Thrasher died from his burns. After extensive case preparation which included multiple depositions of experts in metallurgy, boiler operation, inspection techniques and burn care, this case settled a week before we were set to select a jury. The amount and terms of the settlement agreement are confidential. Mike Andrews handled this case for the family. He and his staff did a tremendous job in working this case up.
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