Court dismisses case brought by burn victim welder against company that failed to clean storage tank
Carmel Brown suffered serious burns while working for Downriver Torching Services at an environmental waste cleanup site managed by Conestoga-Rovers. He was using a welding torch to cut into an oil storage tank when it erupted in flames. His attorneys did not present any expert witness to explain how the fire started or why.
The Defendants sought and obtained summary disposition by arguing that it was "mere speculation" what caused the fire and that Brown's failure to identify a fire expert meant he could not prove the cause of the fire--or fault for his burns. The dissenting judge wrote a fiery opinion of her own. She pointed out that the evidence showed that the work site was "known to be unstable and dangerous," and that witnesses documented that the flames that burned Brown came out of the oil tank [the Defendants argued that he may have been burned by molten steel he dropped on his clothing]. She noted that the Defendants discarded both Brown's affected clothing and the tank that he was cutting--even though there was paperwork that appeared to certify that one of the two potential tanks involved had not been cleaned as required. Further, days earlier there was another documented "flare up" of an improperly cleaned tank at the site. As the dissenting judge pointed out, "these are not arcane scientific matters of great mystery to ordinary adults....The obvious causal connection between storing oil in a container, failing to clean the container, exposing the container to flame, and some manner of resulting combustion is not rocket science."
That Judge Kathleen Jansen would sign an opinion that seems to unfairly target an injury victim's case for summary disposition is no surprise. It is a little surprising that Judge Mark Cavanagh would go along.