Victims of the Gainesville Poultry Plant Nitrogen Leak May Have More Options Than They Know

Six people are dead following a nitrogen leak at the Foundation Food Group plant in Gainesville on January 28th, 2021.

The dead were all employees of the plant, ranging in age from 28 to 45, many of them parents of young children. Their names were Nelly Gisel Perez-Rafael, Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, Corey Alan Murphy, Saulo Suarez-Bernal, Victor Vellez, and Edgar Vera-Garcia.

Perez-Rafael was the one who made the call to report the incident, and she was last seen alive warning her colleagues to get out. Eleven more employees were also taken to the hospital, at least three of them in critical condition.

Although the Chemical Safety Board warns that its full investigation may take several years to complete, their initial report noted that the plant had recently switched over to a nitrogen-based freezing system to replace their ammonia-based one, and that the nitrogen line ruptured during “unscheduled maintenance.” Prior to the incident, the plant reportedly “had been experiencing unresolved operational issues on the chicken conveyor that appear to have resulted in the accidental release of liquid nitrogen.”

Survivors and Family Members May Have a Personal Injury Claim Against the Machine Manufacturer / Servicer Who Installed & Serviced the Freezing System

The injured survivors and the families of the dead should be able to file for quick compensation via their workers’ comp coverage with Foundation Food Group. However, workers’ comp typically only covers direct expenses, such as medical and funerary bills, and sometimes a portion of lost income. It provides no compensation for emotional losses, and is unlikely to be enough to support the family members who depended on these workers for long.

Although workers’ comp law protects Foundation Food Group from personal injury litigation in this case, there is at least one other entity that survivors may be able to sue for more complete compensation: the equipment provider.

The plant’s new liquid nitrogen flash-freezing system may have had a design flaw or a manufacturing defect that allowed this leak to occur. Or, the company that installed the machine may have done so incorrectly, or failed to give the plant’s management adequate safety instructions.

Workers and family members who choose to pursue a lawsuit against the company that provided the machinery can still file their regular workers’ comp claims as well; it’s not an either/or.

Even Trusting This Plant with Nitrogen May Have Been an Act of Negligence

Before January, the poultry plant in question used to belong to Prime Pak Foods. Foundation Food Group had just bought it out when the accident occurred. During its operation as Prime Pak Foods, the plant saw several serious accidents on a smaller scale. Though none of them had to do with its old freezer system, they did involve improperly guarded machinery and multiple amputation injuries. This is relevant because facilities, management, and safety policies often carry over even when ownership changes. As a result, and based on the facts, its possible that Prime Pak Foods was somehow negligent – that is an angle to be explored as well.

Liquid nitrogen is extremely dangerous and can cause devastating cold burns and suffocation almost without warning. If the plant’s history of handling dangerous equipment is deemed bad enough, the liquid nitrogen supplier who refilled the system may also share liability for these deaths and injuries.

To learn more about poultry plant accidents and how The Stoddard Firm helps survivors and families, click here.

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