Aug. 16–Another lawsuit has been filed against Colonial Pipeline and a subcontractor working for Colonial related to the 2016 explosion on a gasoline pipeline that killed two workers and injured four others.
The widow of Anthony Lee Willingham filed suit against Colonial and Superior Land Designs, LLC in Gwinnett County, Georgia, alleging the companies were negligent in their responsibilities to maintain worker safety in the Oct. 31, 2016 incident, and for “fostering a culture whereby unsafe practices were not reported or stopped, and were allowed to proceed in order to expedite work.”
Colonial Pipeline spokesman Steve Baker said the company was aware of the lawsuit but was limited in what they could say about the matter due to ongoing federal investigations.
Baker did say the company disputes some of the allegations made in the lawsuit.
“Colonial continues to extend its sympathy to the Willingham family and to others impacted by the incident,” Baker said. “Because of an ongoing [National Transportation Safety Board] investigation, the company is restricted in what it can say about the incident.”
According to the lawsuit, Willingham was working with other employees of the L.E. Bell Construction Company to excavate Colonial’s gasoline pipeline in Shelby County, following a massive leak discovered the previous month, for permanent repairs to the pipeline.
According to emergency response agencies, the workers struck the pipeline with a track hoe, sparking an explosion that shot flames visible for miles around and a fire that burned for several days afterwords.
The lawsuit, filed by law firm Beasley Allen, alleges that the supervisor working for Superior Land Designs and Colonial “lacked sufficient experience and qualifications,” and that work crews were instructed to proceed with the excavation despite not having sufficient information about the depth and location of the pipeline.
“There is never an excuse for a company to disregard safety in the name of profit or speed,” said Mike Andrews, an attorney representing Beverly Kay Willingham, widow of Anthony Willingham. “This tragedy would not have happened if these defendants had taken the necessary steps to maintain this pipeline properly and safely, to provide competent supervision on site and at a minimum to have accurate maps showing where its underground components were located so crews could operate safely.”
The suit claims that the Superior Land Designs supervisor, identified in the lawsuit as Chris Covey, arrived at the excavation site ahead of a project inspector from Colonial, identified as Nicky Cobb, and that “Mr. Covey had requested documentation from Mr. Cobb regarding the location of the Pipeline at the excavation sites, but the information was not provided to Mr. Covey.”
The plaintiffs state that Cobb instructed Covey to proceed with the excavation without him and without providing the information requested. Willingham was operating the track hoe at the time of the explosion.
Covey was also seriously injured in the blast and also filed suit against Colonial last month.
The plaintiffs in the Willingham case are seeking a jury trial where they are seeking unspecified damages for negligence, wantonness, negligence per se, respondeat superior, wrongful death, loss of consortium, and punitive damages.
The company has also been sued by landowners near the site for damage to their property and lost income related to the incident.
The state of Alabama settled its claims with Colonial for $3.3 million earlier this year.
Colonial Pipeline and Superior Land Designs are both headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga.
The pipeline, described as the largest refined petroleum products pipeline in the country, ships gasoline and diesel fuel from refineries in Houston to distribution centers throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states before its terminus in Linden, New Jersey.
*Updated at 5:12 p.m. to add comments from Colonial Pipeline and from Willingham’s attorney.
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