Barge worker sues Kirby Inland over alleged benzene exposure

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Apr. 27, 2009, 10:56am

GALVESTON – Alleging he became seriously ill because of benzene exposure, a Harris County man seeks more than $75,000 in damages from a Houston-based marine shipping company.

George McWilliams's personal injury lawsuit says employer Kirby Inland Marine Inc. of Texas failed to provide the plaintiff with proper working equipment during his 17-year stint as a mechanic and expert engineer.

The case was filed under the Jones Act in Galveston County District Court on Apr. 17.

McWilliams fixed barges and hauled parts for other ships as an employee of the defendant.

"During his employment, the plaintiff was exposed to benzene and other potentially hazardous and toxic chemicals resulting in the plaintiff suffering severe and disabling injuries," the original petition states.

McWilliams says being subjected to benzene disfigured and impaired him, eventually rendering the plaintiff unemployed.

In addition to accusing the company of improperly maintaining a safe work environment, the suit argues the defendant neglected to furnish a respirator for when the plaintiff worked with harmful chemicals.

It ultimately faults Kirby Inland Marine for not covering McWilliams's medical expenses as specified in the Jones Act.

"Due to the gravity of the injuries, the plaintiff has had to seek reasonable and necessary medical care and attention, which has caused the plaintiff to incur medical expenses for the treatment of his injuries," the suit says.

The complaint does not name any of the vessels on which McWilliams worked as defendants.

The plaintiff, who is represented by Houston attorney Richard J. Plezia, seeks a jury trial.

Galveston County 10th District Court Judge David Garner is presiding over the case.

Case No. 09CV0539

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