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Corboy & Demetrio Obtains $5.5 Million for Laborer Killed in Plumbing Explosion on Construction Site

On October 20, 2015, Roger Creason was fatally injured while working on a construction site at a wastewater treatment plant in Springfield, Illinois.  Creason was a union laborer employed by Henderson Bros. Company, which was a subcontractor to Tobin Brothers, a plumbing subcontractor to Williams Brothers Company, the general contractor.   

Corboy & Demetrio Partner Edward G. Willer represented the Estate of Roger Creason.

Creason was working inside a 54-inch diameter pipe when a piece of test equipment, known as a joint tester, exploded.  The test equipment had a reinforced rubber bladder that was inflated with pressurized air to provide a tight seal against the wall of the pipe.  The bladder exploded during a test, causing the equipment and/or blast wave to violently strike Mr. Creason’s head and arm.  Several days after the explosion, Mr. Creason died in the hospital.

After lunch on the date of the occurrence, Rob Smith of Tobin Brothers, Inc., directed Creason, a Henderson laborer, to go down into the pipe with Joshua Prasun, another Tobin employee who was a plumber, to observe the manner in which the test was conducted.  Prasun left the jobsite that day shortly before 2:00 p.m. for a doctor’s appointment, and Smith wanted Creason to fill in for Prasun so that testing of joints could continue without interruption.  Creason had no experience operating a joint tester.  Significantly, Creason, a union laborer, had never operated a joint tester before the date of this occurrence.  

It was established that operators of joint testers normally were plumbers.  Prasun showed Creason how he (Prasun) was using the equipment while he (Prasun) conducted tests on two joints.  Then, Prasun watched while Creason operated the joint tester on the following joint.  After Prasun left the pipe, Creason continued testing joints.  While Creason was in the process of inflating the bladder or pressurizing the test cavity, the bladder exploded.  When the bladder exploded, Creason was struck by part of the test equipment and/or a blast wave, and fatally injured.  

Notably, the foreman of the Henderson crew was asked by Tobin’s foreman if Creason could be used to only move the joint tester from one location to another.  Henderson’s foreman, Monty Yard, only discovered that Creason was operating the joint tester after this tragic occurrence.

Blunt force injuries of the head were Roger Creason’s cause of death.  

The lawsuit alleged Brothers Construction Company, as the general contractor, did not provide a safe workplace by not performing confined space tests in the pipe and failed to supervise its contractor, Tobin Brothers Inc. 

It also alleged Tobin Brothers, Inc., negligently assigned plaintiff’s decedent, Roger Creason, a laborer, to operate the joint tester without any training.  Plumbers perform this task, not laborers.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that the joint tester, manufactured and leased by Plug-It-Products Corporation, was unreasonably dangerous.

The Plug-It Joint Tester utilized a rubber bladder and test cavity filled with high pressure air.  It was known to Plug-It that the bladder had the potential to explode with tremendous force and cause serious injury or death to personnel.  It was known from a previous fatality involving a Plug-It Joint Tester that the joint tester could rotate violently within the test pipe during use and strike personnel, causing death.
The adjustable bladder air pressure regulator supplied with the joint tester was capable of supplying air pressure to the bladder exceeding the maximum safe pressure marked on the bladder surface and on the control panel.
The adjustable test chamber air pressure regulator supplied with the joint tester was capable of supplying air pressure greatly exceeding the required test chamber air pressure.
The adjustable test chamber air pressure regulator supplied with the joint tester was capable of supplying air pressure greatly exceeding the bladder pressure. 
The pressure relief valve for the bladder was adjustable.  The pressure relief valve could be adjusted to open at a pressure higher than the maximum safe pressure marked on the bladder and on the control panel.
The test chamber air system was not provided with a pressure relief valve.
The Plug-It Joint-Tester was not provided means to prevent violent rotation of the joint tester within the pipe in the event of test cavity over pressure or bladder ruptured.
The Plug-It Joint Tester was not provided with means to prevent violent displacement of components (projectiles) likely to cause injury or death to personnel in the event of test cavity over pressurization or bladder failure.
Plug-It failed to provide the necessary instructions and warnings required for the safe assembly, inspection, operation and maintenance of the joint tester.
Plug-It failed to include any instructions or warnings regarding the requirement for personnel to operate the joint test from a safe location.
Plug-It failed to include any instructions or warnings regarding pre-use inspection of the bladder assembly to identify wear, damage or other conditions which could cause bladder rupture or other unsafe operating conditions.
Plug-It did not perform any design analysis or testing to determine the safe operating pressures of the joint tester.
Plug-It did not perform any analysis or testing to determine the safe operating distance or location of personnel to avoid injury in the event of foreseeable failures of the joint tester.
Plug-It did not conduct hazard identification and control analysis or any other any other risk analysis methodology to identify and mitigate the significant risks of serious injury or death to personnel arising out of the reasonably foreseeable use of the Plug-It joint tester.

Important evidence in the case disclosed that four years before the occurrence, Plug-It Products Corporation had another lawsuit filed against it, claiming similar allegations.  Plaintiff’s counsel was able to obtain prior testimony from that case, which disclosed that Plug-It-Products added extension hoses to have the operator work the control panel at least 20’ away from the stationery joint tester machine.  Notably, the addition of the extension hoses was based solely on the advice of Plug-It-Products defense counsel in that case. 

Significantly, no instructions were provided to Tobin Brothers’ employees to inform their operators of the proper use of the hoses; i.e., to guard by distance. 

“This case serves as a poster child in support of non-confidentiality agreements.  We were able to secure previous testimony from the president of the manufacturer in an unrelated death case that the defense insurance lawyer had advised adding 20-foot extension hoses as a safety measure,” Willer said.

“Hopefully, this resolution should bring some closure to the Creason family in this tragic chapter and will allow them to focus on the future,” he added. 

The settlement was obtained on Sept. 30, 2019 in Sangamon Co. Circuit Court.

Case info: #2016L20, Tracy Creason, as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Roger Creason, Deceased v. Williams Brothers Construction Company, a foreign corporation; Tobin Brothers, Inc., an Illinois corporation; Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Inc., and Plug-It Products Corporation, a foreign corporation.

Media Contact: Helen Lucaitis, Communications Director, Corboy & Demetrio; HHL@corboydemetrio.com; 312-346-3191 (office) or 312-550-2077 (cell)

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