Jury awards $14M to employee burned in explosion

September 16, 2010 3:04:54 AM PDT
Carl Cotright was on a tanker when it blew up three years ago. Now he's been awarded several million dollars because of what happened that day. While the jury sided with Cotright, the company involved says they're not ready to pay him just yet.

It was that fire and explosion that got people's attention more than three years ago. Now, it's that a multimillion-dollar verdict read in a civil court on Wednesday. Cotright was burned over much of his body.

Carl Cotright isn't easily excitable, not even on his life-changing day.

"I'm just glad this finally came," he said.

Maybe it's because it has been a long road to get here.

"The injuries took a lot from me," Cotright said.

Cotright was on a tanker in April of 2007 just before it exploded. He was loading it with a flammable liquid when it ignited, but by the time he realized what was happening, it was too late.

"The flames had already hit me," Cotright said. "I was already on fire."

"I remember hitting the ground, rolling, people were slapping me trying to put me out," he said.

Cotright suffered second- and third-degree burns on his torso, arms and legs.

He sued the Transport Company C & G Hot Shot Service, and on Thursday in civil court, a jury sided with him, awarding almost $14 million in actual and punitive damages. His attorney says the company had offered to settle for $15,000.

"It sends a loud message to companies that do this kind of business, that transport types of chemicals -- flammable chemicals. You better take workers' safety first and then worry about making the money," Cotright's attorney, Jason Gibson, said.

The attorney for C & G, Steven E. Thompson, declined an on-camera interview but provided a statement that reads in part, "My clients adhere to every safety standard applicable to their businesses. My clients are deeply concerned for the safety of their employees. This case involved an employee that ignored the safety standards which he had been taught."

Cotright disputes that.

"They didn't really train us the right way," he said.

His attorney says one simple precaution was overlooked that day. No one grounded the tanker which would have prevented the fire. C & G still contends it was Cotright's responsibility.

But with the jury's verdict comes vindication, Cotright says, along with hugs, handshakes and smiles.

"I'm just very happy right now," he said.

The attorney for C & G also points out the jury's decision was not unanimous. In fact, 10 out of 12 jurors sided with Cotright. C & G plans to appeal.

Full statement issued by C & G's attorney, Steven E. Thompson:

    "We are extremely disappointed with the jury's verdict today. My clients adhere to every safety standard applicable to their businesses. My clients are deeply concerned for the safety of their employees. My clients are entirely sympathetic to the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff.

    This case involved an employee that ignored the safety standards which he had been taught. The result of his ignoring those safety standards were the injuries he suffered which were the subject of this trial. My clients have had no other employee injuries before or after this particular incident. The jury's decision was not unanimous. For those that found that the Plaintiff had no responsibility for his own actions, we strongly disagree and we will appeal this verdict.

    This verdict is one of many that is causing the destruction of the American small business and causing American job losses."

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