In the early morning hours of January 24, 2020, the Watson Grinding facility in Northwest Houston exploded, sending debris and shock waves for miles. A 2,000-gallon propylene gas tank inside the facility exploded, causing at least 2 deaths as well as numerous injuries and widespread damages across businesses and residential communities within the large blast zone.
Houston, Texas is the petrochemical capital of the world and is no stranger to catastrophic, non-natural disasters and explosions. Home insurance policies typically cover various damages caused by natural disasters – but what about when the disaster is non-natural?
Insurance companies are ill-equipped to deal with the full scope of damages and injuries that can occur as a result of non-natural disasters like chemical explosions. Explosions are the type of event where you should absolutely seek legal help in order to demand full recovery for damages, as it is very unlikely your claim will get the attention it deserves otherwise.
From medical care and bills to insurance policy claims, this article will help you understand your legal rights to fully recover in situations like this.
Explosion Insurance Claims
At least two people were killed and one person is missing as a result of the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Facility explosion, according to the Houston Police Department.
Shockwaves from the Watson Grinding facility explosion reverberated for miles, and the blast was heard as far away as Baytown and Kingwood.
Closer to ground zero, the shockwave from the blast sent objects flying from walls and many individuals have reported falling. Many other persons in the near vicinity of the blast reported hearing issues, such as hearing loss or ringing ears. Numerous houses were damaged or destroyed and many others will likely experience foundation issues far into the future.
Most homeowners have homeowners insurance, which in theory would assist in the process of rebuilding.
But how will an individual who was physically or mentally injured in the blast recover following an act that likely could have been prevented? How will property owners recover from a home that has lost 50% of its value because of foundation and structural repairs?
Complex Homeowner’s Insurance Claims
The Spring Branch / Northwest Houston community is still reeling from the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Many were still rebuilding their homes and community just before the Watson Grinding facility explosion in NW Houston this morning.
Additional damages caused by this explosion will add complications to existing claims and ongoing repairs.
Adding insult to injury, history has shown that insurance companies will attempt to sidestep their obligations, lowball the repair estimate, and will delay until the homeowner is forced to take a lowball offer.
Given the historical explosion events in Harris County and the surrounding areas, there are practical steps that a homeowner or injured individual can take to protect themselves and their legal interests in the Watson Grinding facility explosion.
The Port Neches Explosion – December 2019
A Houston resident need look no further than the December 5, 2019 Port Neches, TX explosion to fully understand the obstacles homeowners face when considering whether (or how) to rebuild. In that instance, a TPC Chemical plant exploded, resulting in massive damages, mirroring that of the Watson Grinding facility explosion.
Insurance companies delayed or lowballed homeowners in the Port Neches community, leaving a deficit from which residents were left trying to recover. Many Port Neches residents were forced to resort to filing lawsuits against the TPC chemical plant for the remaining amount of their property damage claims.
Deer Park ITC Facility Explosion – May 2019
Another very recent example is the ITC facility explosion in Deer Park, Texas in May 2019. Hundreds of individuals, including children, in the community were exposed to chemicals released into the air and suffered serious injuries. Lawsuits are still being filed by victims due to insufficient recovery of damages through the insurance claims process.
Legal Advice for Those Impacted
Houston-based personal injury attorney, Andrew Cobos, specializes in explosion cases, having represented individuals and homeowners in aftermath of the ITC explosion at Deer Park, the Kuraray America explosion in Pasedena, TX, and the Pemex Explosion in Oaxaca Mexico. He offers the following advice:
1. Seek Medical Assistance
“First and foremost, seek medical assistance if you are injured,” Cobos stresses.
“Medical care is necessary to ensure a full and complete recovery from any incident – especially when it involves a massive chemical explosion such as the one that occurred at the Watson Grinding facility,” he adds. “Moreover, such documentation is necessary if an individual will later seek to recover for bodily injuries such as hearing loss, bruising from falling, or impacts from debris.”
2. Photograph Damages
Next, Cobos advises that “Property owners should thoroughly document damage to their homes. Homeowner’s insurance companies are particularly bad when it comes to mass claims from common events such as the explosion at the Watson Grinding facility.”
“These insurance companies know that the homeowners are vulnerable, and they seek to take advantage of such exposure. But insurance is not the only source of recovery. The Watson Grinding facility has liability insurance that will assist community members in picking up the pieces.”
To make a claim, however, a property owner should inspect their belongings and take pictures of any property items that have been damaged (e.g. dishes, electronics, glassware, automobiles, etc.). A property owner should survey their structure and document any cracks in the walls, caved-in roofs, or other issues affecting the structure or foundation of the property.
3. Seek Legal Help
Finally, “Consult a lawyer who specializes in explosion cases,” Cobos advises. “Explosions are unique types of cases with catastrophic and/or long-lasting damages – some can even last a lifetime. The legal cliché that ‘you may be entitled to recovery,’ is especially true in explosions such as this one, where there is a large corporation at fault and their action or inaction caused bodily harm or property damage to hundreds of innocent citizens.”
Getting Legal Help
Injuries caused by explosions fall under the umbrella of Personal Injury Law. Getting legal help may seem daunting, but you may be surprised at how much a lawyer can actually help in cases like this.
How do I know if I should talk to a lawyer?
If you suffered any degree of bodily injury or damage to your home or business as a result of the explosion, you should at least consult with a lawyer. Initial legal consultations for cases like this are always offered free of charge.
Ensure that you get a consultation and evaluation from a personal injury lawyer who specializes in explosion cases. Many lawyers will advertise that they cover explosion cases; however, few actually possess any experience handling complex cases like this.
Additionally, make sure that you consult with a personal injury lawyer who specializes in explosion cases in Houston / Harris County. Not only will that lawyer be able to give you better expectations during your consult, a lawyer’s court record in a particular jurisdiction has a strong influence in the outcome of future cases in that jurisdiction.
How much will it cost to hire an explosion lawyer?
Personal injury lawyers operate on a contingency fee basis. That means that you shouldn’t be paying anything out of your own pocket at any point in support of the case. The attorney only gets paid if he or she wins your case. If your lawyer wins, he or she typically takes 40% of the recovery.
You may balk at this percentage; however, there are many costs and risk associated with taking complex injury cases on a contingency basis. If you’ve suffered bodily injury, good attorneys will even cover the cost of you getting a full medical evaluation, lost wages from taking time off from work, and more. Attorneys eat those costs if they lose your case so it’s a pretty big risk on the lawyer’s part.
No matter how minor or major your injury or damages may seem, in cases that involve chemical explosions, it’s highly advisable that you seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.