With an explosion such as the one in West, Texas companies have to begin their defense almost immediately. We all mourn the loss of the people in West, Texas, and the first responders who lost their lives in trying to put out the fire. Unfortunately, companies who have explosions or chemical spills or other environmental events, while being compassionate about any dead or injured, are immediately the target of potential lawsuits and governmental prosecutions. As government investigators start their work, plaintiff's law firms begin working with clients and developing their strategy for bringing lawsuits against companies.
An article in the Texas Lawbook entitled West Fertilizer Explosion Lawsuits Coming discusses how several plaintiff's firms are already working on the case. I was quoted in that article as follows:
Scott Deatherage, a partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell, says the state and federal government investigations could dictate the direction of the civil lawsuits, especially if the reports fault the company.
“Companies need to conduct their own internal investigations through their own counsel to try to ensure the reports and conclusions of the investigating agencies are factually accurate and respond appropriately to allegations regarding statutory or regulatory violations,” says Deatherage.
It is true that companies must defend themselves in these cases, and need to understand the interplay between investigating agencies and plaintiff’s attorneys. The government investigations and statutes and regulations are important to understand and how they may affect claims by injured workers and bystanders. These reports can serve the interests of the plaintiffs and their attorneys.
An internal investigation under an attorney's direction to determine the causes and facts will go a long way in understanding the nature of the case and how to defend against claims by the government and individual citizens. It is unfortunate, but companies must begin this work right at the time of the event, in order to respond to the claims that may be inevitable as the result of the series of facts that lead to the explosion, spill, or other catastrophic event.