The litigation over the May 2002 fatal explosion and fire at Rouse Polymerics International Inc. has come full circle, with Rouse Polymerics filing a suit of its own.
Michael Rouse, Rouse Polymerics president and CEO, is accusing Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Astec Industries Inc. and subsidiaries Astec Inc. and Heatec Inc. of designing and installing a faulty processing and dryer system at the Rouse fine-mesh recycled polymer plant in Vicksburg.
The Astec system provided the ignition source that caused the explosion and fire, according to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Western Division. Five Rouse Polymerics employees died and seven were seriously injured in the accident.
Astec and its subsidiaries have a suit pending against Rouse Polymerics in the Chattanooga federal district court. Astec wants Rouse to repay it for whatever punitive and compensatory damages it is assessed in suits brought against the machinery firm by the families of the victims. Attorneys for Astec could not be reached for comment.
Rouse seeks more than $47 million in damages in the suit, filed on May 16, the third anniversary of the incident.
``What shocks the most is that Astec knew that its processing system was dangerous, knew the environment in which it would be placed, but still failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that the design of its system was safe,'' Rouse claimed in a June 20 statement.
>From his new home in Oregon, Rouse said he waited three years to file the lawsuit against Astec because it took him that long to gain some perspective on the event.
``I think things have settled down enough to allow me to see what had gone on,'' he said. ``I hired an outside company to design a processing system for me, we had a fire and explosion, and this hurt a lot of people.''
The families of two workers who died in the fire also named Rouse and Rouse Polymerics as defendants in their lawsuits, according to attorneys representing Rouse, although one dropped them from the suit
Rouse Polymerics still exists, Rouse said, but he no longer owns the Vicksburg plant he built after the destruction of the older, larger operation. He sold those assets in September 2004 to his daughter, Julie Johnson, who started Specialty Elastomer Recovery Inc., a new business unrelated to Rouse Polymerics. Rouse is a consultant to the firm.