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Injured Brothers Settle Paper Mill Blast Lawsuit

Fri, 01/29/2010 - 6:08am
HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Two brothers injured in a deadly explosion at an International Paper Co. mill in Mississippi have agreed to settle their federal lawsuit.

David and Darren Clark of Mooresville, N.C., agreed to the settlement in a joint motion filed Wednesday with International Paper. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Clark brothers were injured when a 12-story recovery boiler blew up as workers tried to restart it after annual maintenance at the Redwood plant on May 3, 2008. One man was killed and nearly two dozen others were hurt.

The boiler didn't have adequate steam, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA fined International Paper $77,000 for two alleged violations.

The Clark brothers, both in their late 20s, said they were burned on their faces and hands, suffered some hearing loss and were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

They sued in U.S. District Court in Mississippi on Jan. 26, 2009. The lawsuit claimed International Paper recklessly ignited the boiler when it was filled with combustible gas.

One of the Clarks' lawyers, Ryan Zehl of Houston, Texas, said Thursday that the "terms of the settlement are confidential."

"I can say I think IP did the right thing by settling," Zehl said. "The Clarks will now be able to attempt to resume their lives, and the result was, I think, mutually satisfactory to both parties."

In separate filings Wednesday, each brother said "his claim against International Paper is doubtful, disputed and can not be readily collected, and that the proposed compromise settlement would be in his best interest."

The agreement would also release their former employer, Cumming, Ga.-based RMR Mechanical Inc., and its insurer, Zurich American Insurance Co., from liability under the Mississippi workers' compensation laws. Zurich American is a subsidiary of Swiss insurance giant Zurich Financial Services.

Zehl said the settlement will help the Clark brothers recover from financial and emotional hardships they have faced since the explosion. They were deeply disturbed by the blast and plan to look for a different line of work, he said. "They don't have any intention of returning to an industrial setting."

International Paper spokeswoman Amy Sawyer said six cases related to the explosion have been settled. Two are still pending in federal court and two are pending in state court.

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