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As a plume of smoke rose, mangled debris covered what was once the home of the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas. The plant exploded on April 17, 2013 killing fourteen people, injuring more than 200 others, and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage to the surrounding area. An investigation is ongoing as to what caused the blast, including a lead that there had been a fire on the property earlier on the day of the explosion. Investigators are also looking into the possibility of a security breach because the plant has been subjected to numerous break-ins dating back to 2002, including theft, interference with tank valves, and chemical leaks.

Regardless of the cause of the explosion, it would appear that West Fertilizer was putting profits over safety for the citizens of West, Texas. The burglaries are clear indications that security has been lax for some time. The perimeter was not fenced, and the facility had no burglar alarms or security guards. Firewalls and a protective berm were never built; there was no fire suppression system. The company had previously been fined for not having a proper emergency plan although the company said that there was no danger of fire.

Lack of responsibility and safety doesn’t stop here. Informed sources are now indicating that the fertilizer company carried a meager $1 million limit of liability insurance coverage. The explosion destroyed an apartment complex, nursing home, and school. Hundreds of homes were damaged, some leveled to the foundation. Property damage alone could reach $100 millions, yet West Fertilizer had $1 million in insurance; $1 million to compensate 14 families for the loss of a loved one, hundreds of seriously injured Texas citizens, and hundreds more for loss of or serious damage to their homes. This is a tragic example of how pro-business non-regulation by a state or local government works to the significant detriment of individual citizens. By comparison, a local resident living only a few blocks from the explosion site has a $1 million insurance policy on a 5-acre lot because of a stock tank on the property.

Hopefully, there are corporate assets in the millions. Hopefully, those harmed will be able to tap those assets. History suggests that the effort will be etremely difficult.$1 million will only pay a fraction of the claims. Why is a fertilizer company permitted to carry such a small policy? In Texas, are there mandatory policy requirements for businesses that engage in hazardous activities? How much insurance must a hazardous waste treatment plant carry? A nuclear power plant? This is scary stuff.

West Fertilizer should be held fully responsible. Every victim who has been adversely affected and can demonstrate the extent of his/her damages should be able to prove the claim and obtain appropriate compensation. If West Fertilizer (and negligent corporations like it) is not made to pay consequential, even punitive damages, there is no incentive for change; no incentive to increase policy limits to appropriate levels. Instead, negligent corporations will continue to underinsure; they will save money in premiums at the future expense of an uninformed public and a lax government. Limited consequences continues the cycle of corporate greed. Tragedies will continue to happen if companies are allowed to skimp on safety and insurance. And, when we allow these companies to limit liabiliy or escape accountability, the burden of compensation falls upon the taxpayer. Is that what we want?

Mark Bello has thirty-six years experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice, Public Citizen, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Vern Dennis
    Vern Dennis

    Sad situation to say the least but very few insurance laws requiring entities to carry insurance have much in the way of enforcement mechanisms attached to them. Look at Michigan and Florida and you'll find a large number of scofflaws driving without auto insurance

    I could suggest some reforms but the most effective changes would also be draconian and the bleeding hearts would never go for them

    Too bad

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