A Petrochemical Accident Affected My Business. What’s Next?

Oct 31, 2022 | Guides, Petrochemical Accidents

When a petrochemical accident happens, commercial fishers and other industries in the Gulf Coast region feel the consequences the hardest. For example, the 2010 BP oil spill cost the area’s fishing industry as much as $1.6 billion in the first year alone. Perhaps more importantly, as many as 10,000 people lost their jobs due to the petrochemical accident in the first year alone.

Our petrochemical accident lawyers secured over $200M for more than 1,000 businesses and individuals affected by the oil spill. Our team has a solid record of taking on big corporations and winning. We’ve handled numerous petrochemical accident cases, such as fires and explosions, burn injuries, toxic exposure, and heavy equipment failure.

For literally hundreds of years, courts have wrestled with this same issue. One of the oldest negligence cases on record, 1832’s Vaughn v. Menlove, addressed this question. Back then, English houses had thatched roofs that could quickly ignite unless the homeowner took specific precautions. The defendant, in this case, refused to take such precautions, and when neighbors warned him of the danger, he ignored them, saying “he would chance it.”

Sure enough, his roof caught fire. The fire spread to his neighbor’s cottage, destroying it. Vaughn claimed Menlove was legally responsible for the fire. However, Menlove argued that he didn’t “wrongfully, negligently, or improperly, keep the said rick or stack of hay.”

To resolve the dispute, the court introduced the reasonable man standard. Since “the whole calamity was occasioned by his procrastination,” Menlove failed to act as a prudent person would act in a similar situation. Reasonable people avoid damaging their neighbors’ cottages or businesses if they can.

This same principle applies today. If a company negligently causes a petrochemical accident that affects your business, the company is liable for damages. At Williams Hart & Boundas, our Houston petrochemical accident lawyers hold these companies responsible for the disasters they cause by obtaining financial compensation for victims. Of course, these things don’t erase the damage done. But they do help prevent future disasters and help affected businesses carry on.

Starting a Negligence Claim

Negligence is a lack of care. According to Vaughn, a defendant may escape liability for such acts only if “the accident were occasioned by a sudden blast which he could not foresee.” Over time, this general statement developed into the four prongs of a negligence case:

  • Duty: Most people and businesses have a duty of reasonable care in Texas. They must ensure that their property is reasonably safe. Furthermore, they must inspect it frequently and address any injury or other hazards.
  • Breach: Defendants breach their duty of care if they know, or should know about, injury hazards, yet they do nothing to address the situation. Menlove should have listened to his neighbors. BP should have properly reinforced the pipeline before it ruptured, and so on.
  • Cause: A Houston environmental lawyer must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that the breach substantially caused the plaintiff’s damages. Foreseeability, which was mentioned above, is legal causation. For example, if Fred collides with Barney and Barney’s doctor makes a mistake during surgery. Fred isn’t legally responsible for that injury. He couldn’t foresee it.
  • Damages: The breach must cause tangible injuries. The injuries must be something that money can compensate for, at least in part. No judge, or anyone else, can turn back time and undo an environmental disaster. Compensating victims to move on with life is the best possible result at this point.

After a Houston environmental lawyer presents a prima facie negligence case, the property owner or defendant usually tries to shift blame for the incident to the victim. Comparative fault is one of the most common negligence defenses. Others include the assumption of the risk (e.g., a written liability waiver) and sudden emergency (an unforeseeable event that caused the injury).

Ending a Negligence Claim

Almost all civil claims settle out of court. These resolutions avoid emotional and risky courtroom showdowns. They also end cases earlier, which means victims receive compensation sooner and give victims more control over the outcome.

Informal settlement negotiations usually start once medical treatment in a personal injury case is substantially complete or the amount of damages is otherwise clear. If the case settles too early, victims are financially responsible for future medical expenses or hidden damages.

Harris County judge usually appoints a professional mediator to oversee negotiations if these informal negotiations stall or break down. The mediator ensures both sides negotiate in good faith. They cannot go through the motions during negotiations. They must be willing to make compromises to reach an agreement.

Usually, in the law, where there is a wrong, there is a remedy. For a free consultation with an experienced petrochemical accident lawyer in Houston, contact Williams Hart & Boundas LLP. We routinely handle matters in Harris County and nearby jurisdictions.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only. The provision of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this newsletter are not a substitute for legal counsel. Do not take action in reliance on the contents of this material without seeking the advice of counsel.

The information contained in this blog may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Accordingly, information in this blog is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.

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