A natural gas leak has been identified as the possible determining factor in an explosion that took place in a chocolate factory, located in Berks County, PA. Although authorities are still investigating the exact reason for the explosion, the impact was so intense that it leveled one of the factory buildings. The blast caused the deaths of seven employees. In a new lawsuit filed against the chocolate factory owner, R.M. Palmer Co., the plaintiff is claiming that employees complained about smelling the scent of natural gas on the day of the explosion; however, the owner allegedly ignored their concerns.
The consequences proved catastrophic. Rather than take the reports of the gas smell as a priority, the supervisors placed production as the continued focus and pushed employees to work. In a situation that was preventable, it was arguably the responsibility of R.M. Palmer Co. to evacuate all employees until an all-clear was provided. The safety of employees should have taken precedence over the push for factory operation. Since the March 24 blast, the first wrongful death lawsuit was filed in mid-April. The family of Judy Lopez-Moran, aged 55 and a mother of three, filed the claim in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and includes the utility company UGI as an additional defendant.
While seven lives were lost in the blaze, employees did survive, including a co-worker who recalls falling through a floor, into a vat of liquid chocolate. Based on information provided by local authorities, the National Transportation Safety Board has categorized the incident as a natural gas explosion and fire. The law firm handling the wrongful death matters has issued statements about engaging in its own investigation to determine whether UGI meters indicated a leak in the pipeline and if the soil around the pipeline signaled a discoloration consistent with a gas leak. The wrongful death case not only aims to hold a specific party accountable, but to also provide a plan to ensure that a similar devastating accident does not take place in the future.