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Kansas explosion sparks multiple wrongful death claims

A Kansas City grain company was not faulted by a state fire marshal's office for an explosion that killed four employees and two work inspectors. However, federal officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the families of the men who died are less forgiving for the fatal accident.

Several wrongful death lawsuits were filed by the victims' families against Bartlett Grain Co. OSHA said Bartlett was guilty of willful and serious worker safety violations, including the improper handling of volatile grain dust which led to the explosion.

Four men in their early 20s and two grain inspectors died in the Atchison grain elevator accident last October. Civil lawsuits named Bartlett and its president as defendants less than half a year after federal inspectors uncovered 13 willful and serious workplace violations.

OSHA wants Bartlett Grain to pay more than $400,000 in fines for causing the "catastrophic accident and heartbreaking tragedy." The company issued a statement that said it would dispute the OSHA recommendations, a federal process that could take more than a year for the U.S. Department of Labor to resolve.

Federal inspectors contend the explosion could have been prevented, if Bartlett had not been negligent about the accumulation and removal of explosive grain dust. OSHA said the company illegally left ignition devices on when it used compressed air to clear the dust from the elevator. Bartlett was also accused of letting grain dust build up and failing to have a preventative maintenance program.

Evidence of wrongdoing is imperative for a criminal prosecution and critical for negligence suits in civil court. Families of the victims of the grain elevator explosion are prepared to show that their loved ones' workplace was unsafe and ripe for a preventable accident.

Bartlett may attempt to settle the families' cases out of court or go to trial. A jury could decide that negligence was behind the men's deaths and award the families a substantial amount of money to ease their grief.

Source: insurancejournal.com, "Families Sue over Kansas Grain Elevator Blast," Bill Draper, Aug. 31, 2012

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