On January 28, 2021, there was a nitrogen leak in Foundation Food Group’s cooling system located in Gainesville, Georgia. Eleven people were hospitalized and 6 were tragically killed.
Now, the families of those victims are filing a wrongful death lawsuit. They’re filing against the Messer Group, a chemical company that installed the plant’s refrigeration system. It was their responsibility to follow safety protocols, as they specialize in the installation and maintenance of nitrogen gas systems, among others.
In addition, they are suing the employee who installed the system for negligence because the person “failed to properly repair or shut the system down and allowed it to continue to operate, leaving vulnerable workers at FFG, including Victor Vellez, at risk for injuries and death from a volatile, odorless, and colorless gas,” according to the lawsuit.
Matt Cook, an attorney for one of the families suing Messer, said their investigation has found that there were complaints about the system just 2 days before the nitrogen leak, “and obviously, they did not get those problems fixed or shut the system down.”
The lawyers agree that the Messer Group is responsible for failing “to properly inspect, test, repair and/or shut the system down until it could be properly repaired.” Their supposed carelessness may have caused these 6 workers their lives.
Right now, all the evidence shows that the installation company is to blame for the leak, not the owner of the plant; however, all of this is subject to change as the investigation continues.
Amy Ficon, a spokesperson for Messer, stated that the company regrets the loss of life and is “fully cooperating” in the investigation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Chemical Safety Board (CSB).
A few families have also sought compensation from Foundation Food Group, which is separate from the litigation against Messer Group.
In a statement, FFG officials said:
“We continue to make every resource available to regulatory authorities relative to the ongoing investigation and remain dedicated to ensuring a safe workplace for all employees. As the community continues to heal, Foundation Food Group extends their continued sympathies and prayers to the families and friends of those lost.”
The individuals who died in the accident are José DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, Nelly Perez-Rafael, Saulo Suarez-Bernal, Victor Vellez and Edgar Vera-Garcia.
It’s vital that you understand your state’s unique rules and what benefits your family is entitled to receive.
Death benefits available to Georgia surviving family members
No amount of compensation can replace the loss of a loved one, but it can help you and your family get back on your feet financially.
Anyone who is considered a worker’s “dependent”—any person who relied on the worker for financial support—is eligible to receive death benefits. The state of Georgia recognizes 2 types of dependents or beneficiaries: primary and secondary.
If there is just 1 primary beneficiary, then that person will receive the full compensation. If there is more than 1 primary or secondary beneficiary, then payment will be split as determined by the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation. In cases where there is a surviving spouse and a surviving child or children, the entire benefit is typically paid to the spouse for the benefit of themselves and the children.
In order to obtain death benefits, the eligible beneficiaries and dependents must notify the person’s employer of the employee’s death (if they don’t already know). The employer must then notify their workers’ compensation insurance carrier to begin the benefits process. Any claim for workers’ compensation death benefits must be filed within 1 year of the fatal workplace accident.
At Gerber & Holder, we understand that you’re dealing with a lot in the aftermath of a sudden and tragic death. The last thing you need to be worrying about is paperwork deadlines and compensation qualifications. This is where we can help you.