While not often in the mainstream national news, safety issues at plants using hazardous chemicals can produce significant litigation requiring expert witnesses. Injuries can range from one worker on the job to multiple workers and community members at a disaster site. At the heart of these cases are the word “Danger!” and a corresponding need to understand the chemicals, proper handling, and probable consequences when something goes wrong.
The expert witness who assists with a chemical plant lawsuit comes from a range of skills. The expert witness can be an engineer, specializing in chemical, mechanical, civil, or structural engineering. He may be an expert in metallurgy or chemistry. Or he could have credentials in designing or managing a chemical plant.
By their very nature, chemical plants are corrosive environments, where the substances produced or handled are continually wearing away at various points of contact. The exposure of the chemical to the surface can cause malfunction of routine mechanical functions and can inhibit safety feature operation. Perhaps worse, it can cause a failure of auxiliary or backup equipment and systems.
Expert witnesses in chemical plant cases have a challenging and precise analysis to perform. They must know the chemical involved, how it behaves, how it can change when put in contact with various other chemicals and substances, the point at which it can cause serious personal injury, and more. The chemical plant expert witness requires both the knowledge to conduct the analysis and the talent to deliver the information in a form intelligible to the trier of fact.
Another consideration for the chemical plant expert witness is human error. This consideration is required on both sides in these cases, and it introduces some degree of speculation. Eyewitness testimony, video surveillance, even admissions against interest might not provide the complete picture of who did what when and how. The chemical plant expert witness brings experience on how various persons function in a potentially dangerous work environment and uses that expertise to put together his theory of events.
Finally, chemical plants also harbor the possibility of chemical and electrical fires that can rapidly put first responders and the community at risk. The chemical plant expert witness can add familiarity with chemical filings with first responders, as well as the need for emergency response plans.
By: Paloma A. Capanna, Attorney