A worker injured in a power plant explosion in February will sue four companies for $6 million in the first federal lawsuit challenging the companies that operated the facility, his lawyer said Monday.
The worker, Nicholas Novik, of River Vale, N.J., says in a lawsuit to be filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on Tuesday that four companies failed to take precautions to prevent the explosion, which killed six workers and injured 50 others at a plant in Middletown.
The companies named in the suit, to be filed by attorney William Bloss, are plant owner Kleen Energy Systems; general contractor O&G Industries, of Torrington; Keystone Construction & Maintenance Services, of Rowley, Mass.; and Bluewater Energy Solutions, of Acworth, Ga.
O&G Industries would not comment, spokesman Dan Carey said. Representatives of the other companies did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment Monday.
Novik, whose job was to calibrate instruments, worked for Instrument Sciences and Technology, of Frenchtown, N.J., at the time of the Feb. 7 explosion. Novik, 52, said he suffered head trauma and hearing loss and still receives medical attention.
His wife, Patricia Novik, also is a plaintiff, claiming harm to their relationship, known as a loss of consortium.
An advantage to suing in federal court is that the companies must provide documents and names of witnesses for defense lawyers to use in their investigation, Bloss said.
The under-construction facility exploded when something ignited natural gas and air that had accumulated in tight quarters during a procedure known as a gas blow, in which high-pressure gas is forced through pipes to clean them.
The ignition source hasn't been identified, but welders were working nearby, and gas and diesel heaters were left running during the gas blow on that chilly Sunday — defying safety rules and common sense, Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said.
OSHA, whose mission is to ensure safe working conditions and enforce standards, imposed $16.6 million in fines Aug. 5 at the Kleen Energy Systems LLC plant, saying the companies disregarded industry procedures and their own safety guidelines.
The largest proposed fine levied in the case was $8.3 million against O&G Industries Inc.
Keystone Construction & Maintenance Inc. oversaw the gas blow and was fined almost $6.7 million, and 16 other companies face potential fines, ranging from $7,000 against several small contractors to more than $896,000 against Bluewater Energy Solutions Inc., which was supposed to oversee the safety and training for the gas blow.
Bloss said he has a "very strong idea of what happened" by reading OSHA's report.
"The mechanics of how gas was vented was very poorly designed," he said. "But then, in addition, management oversight apart from the physical plant was even more deeply flawed."
The lawsuit is the first to be filed in federal court, said Michael London, a spokesman for Bloss' law firm. Lawyers for several injured and deceased workers have sued in state courts.