Rouse Polymerics International Inc., the Vicksburg rubber recycling firm trying to rebuild after an explosion and fire last May, now faces a $65 million lawsuit filed by the family of one of the victims.
Survivors of C. Theodore ``Teddy'' Smith, purchasing manager for Rouse Polymerics, filed the suit Dec. 30 in Warren County (Miss.) Circuit Court. Smith, 40, and four other workers died of burns and other injuries suffered in the May 16 explosion, which also injured seven other employees. Paul K. Loyacono, the Vicksburg attorney who filed the suit, is Smith's stepfather.
Among other things, the suit claims Rouse's manufacturing processes were inherently unsafe, and the defendants destroyed documents relevant to the investigation and made misleading statements to investigators. It also charges Michael Rouse, Rouse Polymerics founder and CEO, diverted company assets to himself, his wife and children after the explosion.
Besides Rouse Polymerics and Michael Rouse, the suit names other Rouse employees and maintenance vendors for the company as defendants. It seeks $20 million in compensatory damages to Smith's estate; $10 million to his widow, Audra Smith; $5 million for each of his two children; and $25 million in punitive damages.
Michael Rouse and the other defendants have 30 days to respond to the suit, Loyacono said. Rouse and his attorney, Stuart Robinson of Jackson, Miss., declined comment.
At least three other lawsuits have been filed by Rouse employees against suppliers and contractors to the firm in connection with the accident. An attorney involved in one of the suits said Mississippi's workers' compensation laws provide very little leeway for employees to sue employers. One defendant in these cases, Astec Industries Inc. of Chattanooga, Tenn., has sued Rouse Polymerics, claiming its contract with the firm indemnifies it against paying damages in suits such as this.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Rouse Polymerics $210,600 in November for alleged violations related to the fire, but on appeal cut the amount to $187,680.
Michael Rouse, meanwhile, is going ahead with plans to open a 20-person plant this month on his Vicksburg site. The factory will produce polymers for high-end markets from recycled rubber and plastics. Before the fire, Rouse Polymerics and its U.S. Rubber Reclaiming subsidiary employed about 100.