Lawsuit filed against DuPont over deaths at Texas plant

LA PORTE, Texas - A prominent Texas trial lawyer said he filed a lawsuit against DuPont and Co on Monday on behalf of a woman whose mother was one of four people killed in an accident on Saturday at the company's La Porte, Texas chemical plant.

The lawyer, Brent Coon, also filed a temporary restraining order to preserve evidence at the scene of the accident, which involved a leak of methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to give natural gas its rotten-egg smell and for making insecticides and plastics.

"Texas has the highest workplace injury levels in the country, and this industry needs much greater oversight of their safety and health programs," Coon, who sued BP Plc over 15 deaths from an explosion at its Texas City refinery in 2005, said in a statement.

Coon is representing Jasmine Rae Wise, whose mother Crystle Wise died from the chemical leak in La Porte. The Harris County Medical Examiner identified the other victims as Wade Baker and brothers Robert and Gilbert Tisnado.

It is not clear if the victims had access to, or were wearing, personal protective equipment at the plant. Coveralls were the only clothing mentioned in autopsy reports, though the medical examiner cautioned that other agencies were the first on the scene.

It is also not clear if workers went to contain the leak or if it caught them by surprise while inside what the US Chemical Safety Board described as an enclosed structure nearly five stories high.

DuPont said on Monday medical personnel had to wait hours to retrieve the four dead bodies because they were not trained to use proper safety equipment.

"Unfortunately, we were dealing with a contaminated unit that no qualified medical personnel could enter until deemed safe, because they were not trained in the use of the personal protective equipment (PPE)," DuPont said in a statement.

The leak started around 4 a.m. (CST). Workers with proper equipment checked on the other group before 7 a.m. (CST) and reported that the laborers were likely dead. The contaminated unit was barricaded for investigation around 8 a.m (CST), DuPont said.

Around noon, the scene was determined safe to enter and the fatalities were confirmed.

DuPont said it is working with state and federal authorities as they probe the incident. The plant, about 24 miles southeast from Houston, has been cited previously by the Environmental Protection Agency for environmental violations. (R