Jackson County

Omega Protein settles suit with wife of Jackson County worker killed in explosion

JACKSON COUNTY -- The wife of a man killed in a 2014 explosion at a fish-processing plant has settled a wrongful death-lawsuit, court records show.

The undisclosed settlement is between Katlyn Taylor of the Big Point community and Omega Protein Inc. Her husband, Jerry Lee Taylor II, 25, was welding on top of a metal storage tank when it exploded July 28, 2014, at the plant on Elder Ferry Road in Moss Point.

He was thrown 100 feet and landed on another tank. He died, and three others were injured, one seriously.

According to the lawsuit, Jerry Taylor did not receive adequate warnings about flammable hydrogen and sulfide gases in the storage tank he was working on.

His wife was seeking punitive and compensatory damages for wrongful death, pain and suffering, negligence and breach of contract. She was asking for a monetary award to cover burial and interment expenses and had demanded a jury trial. She estimated her husband's lost future earning capacity at $1.4 million.

The settlement was reached Thursday.

Jerry Taylor was a temporary worker hired to cut and weld storage tanks at the plant. Omega had a contract with Accu-Fab & Construction, a metal fabricator, to set up a wastewater-storage tank requiring modifications to existing pipes. The staffing agency Global Employment Services provided Accu-Fab with its employees, including Taylor.

After the settlement was reached, Global Employment Services filed a motion asking to be reimbursed for the $153,442 paid to Katlyn Taylor as part of her husband's worker's compensation insurance coverage. U.S. Magistrate Judge John Gargiulo denied the request.

In the suit, Katlyn Taylor said Omega failed to perform safety inspections or train workers about the hazards of potentially flammable and toxic wastewater, a by-product of the manufacturing process, in the storage tanks Jerry Taylor and others were working on. The wastewater generates hydrogen sulfide and methane gases, which are highly explosive and toxic. An Omega engineer reportedly told an Accu-Fab foreman the wastewater was not flammable and that it would cost Omega thousands of dollars to drain the tank.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated and fined Omega and three others companies more than $187,000.

OSHA noted in its findings two temporary workers, including Jerry Taylor, had no training to know the storage tank contained the highly flammable and toxic wastewater.

OSHA issued 13 citations to Omega Protein, a producer of omega-3 fish oil and specialty fish products, for willful, repeated and serious safety violations. One of the citations said Omega put Jerry Taylor and other Accub-Fab employees in danger when it failed to inform Accu-Fab of the explosive and toxic hazards.

OSHA cited Accu-Fab for one willful, four serious and two non-serious violations. The willful violation against Accu-Fab and Global Employment Services resulted from the failure of both companies to instruct employees on chemical hazards in the workplace and for failing to teach employees how to avoid unsafe working conditions.

OSHA cited Accu-Fab with an additional violation for failing to ensure employees working on top of tall storage tanks wore fall protective gear. In addition, OSHA said Accu-Fab did not record in its records the employee's death and two others' injuries.