Four lawsuits were filed against global gas giant Messer Co. after six poultry processing plant employees were killed and twelve injured.
The Foundation Food Group’s facility as seen from the entrance of Memorial Drive in Gainesville, Georgia on January 29, 2021. (Scott Rogers / The Times via AP)
ATLANTA (CN) – Chemical gas mega-company Messer Co. was hit this week by four unlawful death suits filed by families of workers who died last month in a massive liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry processing facility in Georgia.
All of the complaints allege that the Messer Group, the world’s largest private industrial gas company, and one of its employees failed to properly inspect or repair a liquid nitrogen cryogenic freezing system that led to the January 28 fatal nitrogen leak at Foundation Food’s group plant in Gainesville.
Colleen Murphy, the wife of Corey Murphy; Michael Smith, the administrator of Saulo Suarez-Bernal’s estate; Maria Piedad Cabrera Galicia, the mother of Jose de Jesus Elias Cabrera; and Veronica Vellez, the wife of Victor Vellez, have all filed suits against various Messer entities in the Gwinnett County State Court.
Murphy, whose husband Corey was the plant’s production manager, was the first to suing the company and filed her complaint on Tuesday. The other complaints followed on Thursday.
The victims’ families are demanding unspecified compensation.
The plant uses nitrogen to freeze chickens at lightning speed in their production lines. A problem with the conveyor belt system that was transporting the chicken to freeze could have been the cause of the leak, federal investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said.
The matter is still being investigated and it could take several years to complete a full report on the incident.
Although not harmful in small amounts, nitrogen gas can reduce the amount of oxygen in the air and cause asphyxiation. The odorless, colorless gas can also cause frost burns due to its extremely cold temperature.
According to the lawsuits, Messer installed the system in or around December.
“Since the first installation of the liquid nitrogen system, Messer had received complaints about the system at the relevant site. Despite these complaints, Messer did not properly inspect, test, repair and / or shut down the system until it could be properly repaired, ”said the complaint by the Cook Law Group and attorney Jeffery Talley of Gainesville on behalf of Vellez.
The lawsuit filed by Fried Goldberg and Immigration & Injury Attorneys, Barrios, on behalf of Smith alleges that the machine installed by Messer “never worked properly and had several problems with it that made it susceptible to nitrogen leakage”.
The families also sued a man who tried to service the system days before the leak, accusing him of failing to fix the problems or warning workers of the danger posed by nitrogen.
More than 130 workers were exposed to liquid nitrogen before being evacuated from the facility. Twelve workers suffered serious injuries and six died.
A spokesman for Messer North America did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday evening.
In the aftermath of the disaster, organizers and activists have called for the facility to be inspected before workers return to work, and have urged local and state officials to put in place new policies and safeguards.
Foundation Food Group Inc. has announced that the facility will not reopen until it is determined to be safe.