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Watson Grinding Explosion


More than 2,000 sufferers of the Watson Grinding & Manufacturing explosion in northwest Houston are one step closer to getting their day to court. A federal judge sent more than 126 lawsuits brought against that company and others back to the state court on Wednesday to move forward.

The explosion of January 24 killed three men, two workers, and a nearby resident, and rocked the working-class neighborhood of Westbranch, damaging hundreds of homes. Residents affected have embarked on a gradual and often grueling recovery process, wrangling with insurers and, where possible, rebuilding their homes. Many lawsuits have been brought against Watson Grinding & Manufacturing and Watson Valve Services, Inc., both companies located at the explosion site.

The companies have declared bankruptcy two weeks after the blast, effectively freezing the United States cases. Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur's ruling Wednesday essentially unfreezes them, lawyers said.

Claims against those two companies and other companies that have subsequently been added to the lawsuits will now be brought before the Harris County District Court.

It's a big step forward because, as you know, bankruptcy proceedings can last a long time, so they so that contentious at least now, we're out of the gates.

Watson Valve's attorney said he didn't have any comments. Watson Grinding Attorneys have not responded to a request for comments.

The parties are planning to ask the Supreme Court to appoint a judge to deal with all the cases. It will help ensure that one group of plaintiffs does not get ahead of the others and exhaust the money available if companies are found to be liable for the explosion. Instead, the plaintiffs were ordered to form a committee and to work together.

It sounds like Judge Isgur is trying to come up with a uniform way to deal with these, so one doesn't jump ahead of the other. A few factors might have led Isgur to refer the cases back to the state court. For one, many of the companies involved in the lawsuits have not filed for bankruptcy. In the other case, the trials are unusual in the insolvency court, and the plaintiffs seeking damages and claims for injury may pursue those claims.

This has been a long way to get the desired result for the January 24 applicants, including many client groups. Next week, the Federal Bankruptcy Court will refer all 126 lawsuits to the State Court for litigation against the third parties responsible. This explosion affects Harris County residents and involves companies doing business in Harris County-most suited to a judge and jury in Harris County.

Watson Grinding and Watson Valve each have $26 million in insurance policies that the plaintiffs' attorneys are looking at distributing. Third-party companies, including on-site pipe and storage tank manufacturers, have not declared bankruptcy.

They all have access to those players in the state court right now, just as they would if there were never a bankruptcy.

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