Exclusive: Workers burned in 2012 York County paper mill explosion settle lawsuits

adys@heraldonline.comApril 23, 2014 

The York County paper mill workers burned after a valve burst in May 2012 – spraying them with caustic chemicals used to break down wood chips – have settled lawsuits against the companies that make and distribute the valve, court records show.

Wayne Vinson, Mitch Altman and Mark Harrington, employees at the Resolute Forest Products plant near the Catawba River – known for years as the Bowater mill – were injured when the valve failed. A solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide, known as “white liquor,” burned all three men.

Vinson suffered the worst injuries, including blindness and burns over two-thirds of his body. Altman was burned on 30 percent of his body, and Harrington on 7 percent of his body.

Altman and Vinson spent weeks at burn centers and underwent numerous surgeries, including skin grafts and other procedures.

Vinson, now 39, confirmed the settlement Wednesday but said he could not comment on it.

Still blind, Vinson is set to meet this summer with doctors in Boston for a cornea replacement operation on his right eye.

“I just hope to someday be able to see my family again,” he said.

After an investigation by the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, an independent scientist hired by the state found the valve had design and manufacturing flaws.

“The valve sleeve inside the pinch valve failed,” investigators wrote in a report.

Valve maker Flowrox, based in Finland, and distributor Wacco Inc. of Spartanburg, denied any wrongdoing in written responses to the product liability and negligence lawsuits filed last year. Those lawsuits alleged that the valve was unreasonably dangerous.

Mill owner Resolute Forest Products, one of York County’s largest employers with about 600 workers, was not named in the lawsuit.

A York County judge was scheduled next week to set a trial date, but online court records show the case has been settled. Terms of the settlement were not available. Typically in civil actions, parties who settle agree to a “non-disclosure” pact that includes not publicly discussing the settlement terms or amount of money paid.

A settlement agreement usually allows the defendants to not admit any wrongdoing.

The attorney for the burn victims in October offered to settle Vinson’s case with Flowrox for $4 million, court records show. There is no court document to show the response from Flowrox.

Efforts to reach lawyers for Flowrox and Wacco were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065

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