Thursday, September 21, 2023

Lawsuit in Foundation tragedy puts blame on company servicing liquid nitrogen system

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By Nick Watson

The Times

GAINESVILLE, Ga — A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Tuesday, Feb. 16, against a chemical gas company, alleging the business did not properly inspect or repair the liquid nitrogen system that led to the deadly Jan. 28 Foundation Food Group leak, according to court documents.

The lawsuit was filed in Gwinnett County State Court for Colleen Murphy, the wife of Corey Murphy.

Murphy, 35, of Clermont, was one of six workers killed following the Jan. 28 liquid nitrogen leak at the Gainesville poultry processing plant. He was a production superintendent at the plant who had worked there for roughly two years, according to the family’s attorneys.

The lawsuit claims the plaintiff will bring these same claims on behalf of Corey Murphy’s estate when it is established.

“This is one of the worst tragedies that Gainesville has probably seen in a long time, particularly in the poultry industry,” Gainesville attorney Ronny Hulsey told The Times. “By all accounts, Mr. Murphy was a model father and husband.”

Hulsey and fellow attorney Matt Cook said Murphy served four years in the military with time in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He had two daughters, a 5-year-old and a 6-month-old.

The defendants named in the case are Messer Gas LLC, various other Messer entities and a Braselton man who reportedly attempted to service the liquid nitrogen system days before the deadly leak. The lawsuit was filed in Gwinnett County because the employee lives in Gwinnett County, and Messer North America has a registered agent in Gwinnett as well.

According to the lawsuit, Messer installed the processing plant’s liquid nitrogen system in or around December.

“Since the initial installation of the liquid nitrogen system, Messer had received complaints about the system at the subject location,” according to the lawsuit. “Despite such complaints, Messer failed to properly inspect, test, repair and/or shut the system down until it could be properly repaired.”

The Times reached out to Messer, who expressed their condolences for the six dead and the 12 total who were hospitalized following the leak.

“Messer has offered its support to the Foundation Food Group team, is cooperating fully with the investigating authorities examining this tragedy and is conducting its own investigation,” Messer North America’s head of external communications Amy Ficon wrote in an email. “The investigations are ongoing.  We are aware of the wrongful death lawsuit that has been filed against Messer.  We are reviewing the lawsuit and have no comment at this time.”

Either a day or two days before the leak, a Messer employee tried to service the line.

The lawsuit claims the man was negligent on that service visit, allowing the system to run without properly repairing it or shutting it down.

Cook said they have hired people to assist in their investigation, which has been used to inform the lawsuit’s allegations, but there are still a lot of questions unanswered.

“The fundamental question is how and why this happened,” Cook said. “How does this happen with the world’s largest, privately-owned gas company with unlimited resources?”

Cook said they have not been allowed to participate in the follow-up inspections and have not been able to sit down with investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Ms. Murphy’s husband went to work one morning. She never talked to him again,” Cook said. “We have not had a meeting with OSHA, and Messer has been there and OSHA has been there. Why haven’t the families been allowed to come and inspect the scene?”

The lawsuit is seeking a trial by jury and to recover all damages for “all losses compensable under Georgia law.”

Cook and Hulsey are working on the case along with Alan Holcomb of Atlanta.

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