Two of four fertilizer manufacturers or suppliers named as defendants in the massive West explosion litigation are seeking to blame the city of West and its volunteer firefighters for the disaster.
In recent motions aiming to designate the city of West as a “responsible third party” in the lawsuits, El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion.
The motion from CF Industries also seeks to designate an unknown “John Doe,” who the motion says may have started the fire, and the makers of a golf cart, which was inside West Fertilizer and may have caused the fire through a potential electrical short, the State Fire Marshal’s Office has said.
“The State Fire Marshal’s Office found that the city of West and the West Volunteer Fire Department did not properly plan for, train, or equip the firefighters of the WVFD to handle a fire at a high-risk commercial business,” the motion from CF Industries says.
“The Texas State Fire Marshal also determined that strategies and tactics utilized by the WVFD were not appropriate for the situation and unnecessarily exposed the firefighters, many of whom have brought claims against the CF defendants in this matter, to extreme risks.”
The motion from El Dorado also alleges that the city should be named as a responsible third party because it failed to protect its citizens by allowing through its zoning authority schools and a nursing home to operate in a close proximity to the plant.
“Because of the city’s failure to adequately exercise its zoning authority in the interest of the public, lives were lost and property was damaged as a result of the incident,” the motion contends.
Waco attorney Steve Harrison, who represents the city of West in the lawsuit as well as many of those killed or injured in the blast, said it is common in lawsuits for defendants to blame everyone but themselves.
“The manufacturers of the fertilizer that blew up half of the town of West, killed 15 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes and businesses have blamed the explosion on the West Volunteer Fire Department, a golf cart manufacturer and an imaginary criminal person,” Harrison said. “Some things really just don’t need any comment.”
West Mayor Tommy Muska, who also is a volunteer firefighter, declined comment on the motions Friday, saying he cannot discuss pending litigation on the advice of Harrison.
About 200 plaintiffs, including families of those killed and injured, the city of West, West Rest Haven nursing home and West Terrace Apartments, have filed lawsuits in the wake of the West Fertilizer Co. explosion.
Judge Jim Meyer of Waco’s 170th State District Court has divided the plaintiffs into three trial groups and previously had set the first trial to begin Jan. 26, 2015. He since has moved the first trial to July 2015, which was the original date for the third trial to begin.
The owners of West Fertilizer Co., Adair Grain, have filed a counterclaim against the four fertilizer producers and sellers, adopting many of the same claims that the plaintiffs have made against the companies.
The counterclaim makes Adair Grain both a plaintiff and a defendant in the lawsuits.
The fourth industrial defendant, International Chemical Co., also filed a motion seeking to have the possible unknown criminal who may have started the fire named as a responsible third party. Thermaclime Inc. also is named as a defendant but it has not filed similar motions.
Attorneys for El Dorado and CF Industries did not return phone messages Friday.
“The ATF and DPS have both said there is still an active, ongoing investigation, so obviously, they are not telling us what they know or what they can’t rule out,” said Marc Young, a San Antonio attorney who represents International Chemical. “Since they claim it is one of those three things that they can’t rule out that possibly started the fire, we included it in our motion for a jury to ultimately determine.”
Harrison said attorneys have been taking depositions almost daily in the case for the past three weeks, a process which will continue for the next two months or longer, he said.