Betsy Ingraham

$1.6 Million Jury Verdict for Welder Burned on the Job

  • In 2011, Howard Roberts was working as a sub-contracted welder in the ReEnergy Sterling power plant in Sterling, Connecticut. ReEnergy was a tire burning power plant that burned waste tires and shredded tire material as a source of energy. Mr. Roberts and many other subcontractors were hired by ReEnergy to perform repair work, including welding services throughout the plant. ReEnergy also contracted with Suburban Contract Cleaning to provide “fire watch” over the welders who were working at the plant. Fire watch employees were supposed to stand near the welders, including Mr. Roberts, and extinguish any fires that might occur from errant welding sparks. Suburban employees were given water fire extinguishers that were owned, maintained, filled, and pressurized by ReEnergy.On October 18, 2011, Mr. Roberts was welding a metal chute that fed shredded tire to one of the plant boilers to burn. Unbeknownst to Mr. Roberts or any other contractor at the plant, the area surrounding the hopper was covered in finely ground tire rubber dust due to the plant’s operations. This tire dust was extremely flammable when exposed to high heat or flame, such as welding sparks. ReEnergy knew the flammable dust was there, but did not inform Mr. Roberts or the other subcontractors of the danger of fire.While Mr. Roberts was welding, a spark landed on his shirt, and he burst into flame. The Suburban fire watch employee tried to use three different ReEnergy fire extinguishers to put out the flames, but they all malfunctioned. The fire was only extinguished when another welder tore off Mr. Roberts’ burning clothing and stamped out the fire.Mr. Roberts suffered second and third degree burns over the entire front of his torso, about 18% of his body. He required lengthy hospitalization, painful treatment, and skin grafts, which left his torso with thick, pink, raised scars. He contracted a recurrent MRSA infection, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and persistent psychological effects due to the traumatic incident.Mr. Roberts sued ReEnergy for its negligent and reckless conduct in failing to remove the flammable dust before welding began; it’s failure to warn the welders that the dust was flammable; and for supplying to the fire watch personnel defective and/or improperly filled and pressurized fire extinguishers. Mr. Roberts also sued Suburban for its failure to properly train and supervise its employees to provide adequate fire watch services, including its failure to ensure that the fire extinguishers given by ReEnergy were properly filled, pressurized, and operational.The defendants refused to make a reasonable settlement offer on the case, and the largest offer to settle at any time was $50,000. Betsy Ingraham conducted an eight day trial in Connecticut Federal District Court in New Haven. After only three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict against both defendants in the amount of $1,440,000.

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