Pipe fitter hit with steam sues Total for lung injury

David Yates Aug. 22, 2007, 6:21am

At a local refinery, a wind shift caused hot steam to be blown in pipe fitter Tim Dietz's direction. Dietz claims inhaling the hot steam resulted in facial burns and permanent damage to his lungs.

Dietz and his wife Stephanie, are suing Total Petrochemicals USA Inc. for failing to provide a safe workplace.

Through attorney Steven Barkley, the couple filed their suit with the Jefferson County District Court on Aug. 20.

According to the plaintiff's original petition, on Aug. 31,2006, Dietz was employed by ASI Piping while working at the Total plant, located in South Jefferson County.

"He was working as a pipe fitter in a pipe rack on a scaffold located by the CAT and Regeneration Unit near a 10-inch steam blow down line," the suit said. "His job involved installing a windbreak located about 8 inches from the blow down line. At the time of the accident, he was installing a fire blanket. He was wearing Nomex and all other required safety equipment."

The suit goes on to say Total retained the right to control the work area and issued a permit Dietz's employer authorizing him to begin his job.

"The Total operator knew that Dietz was working in the area of the steam blow down line," the suit said. "The wind shifted and steam blew from the blow down line to Tim Dietz's location."

Dietz inhaled a gust of steam, jerked back and incurred third-degree burns in and around his throat, suffering "thermal injuries" to his respiratory system, the suit said.

"As a result of the accident, Dietz sustained not only third-degree burns to his facial area, but also incurred permanent injuries to his lungs," the suit said.

Dietz, a non-smoker, underwent a pulmonary function study and was told that his lungs were severely compromised, reflecting the "lungs of a 65-year-old man," the suit said.

"Dietz would show that he has been able to return to work but that his ability to work and his earning capacity have been compromised," the suit said. "He has been unable to do the same type of heavy physical labor that he was doing at the time of his accident. As a result, while he can do supervisory work, he cannot work as often as he could prior to his accident and resulting injuries."

The suit accuses Total of negligently keeping the steam blow down line in operation while Dietz was working, issuing a safe work permit, not monitoring air conditions, and for failing to design the blow down line so as to prevent exposure of workers in the area to steam.

"Plaintiff would show that his injuries and resulting damages include damages for past and future medical expense, past and future loss of earning capacity, past and future physical impairment and past and future pain, suffering and mental anguish," the suit said. "His damages are significant and, when measured in money, significantly exceed the minimum jurisdictional limits of this court."

According to the Total Petrochemicals USA Web site, the company is part of the chemical branch of Total S.A., is a worldwide producer of polypropylene, polyethylene, styrenics (including polystyrene), base chemicals, and transportation fuels. "Throughout Total Petrochemicals USA's history, the company has developed ideas, products and services that have made it one of the top suppliers in the world."

Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th Judicial District, will preside over the case.

Case No. B179-839

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