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Workers file civil lawsuit against Husky Energy

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Black smoke rises from the site of the Husky Energy oil refinery.
Black smoke rises from the site of the Husky Energy oil refinery Thursday, April 26, 2018 in Superior, Wisc.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Contract workers are suing Husky Energy in Douglas County Circuit Court for injuries they received in an explosion at the company's oil refinery this year. The civil lawsuit is separate from a class action lawsuit filed against Husky by Superior residents on Aug. 20.

Seven men from Texas and Louisiana filed the civil suit on Aug. 17. They are Dunta Pickett, Theodore Jackson II, Vincent Minello, Fernando Flores, Kevin Johnson, Brandon Wallace and Ryan Cooper. The lawsuit names Husky Energy, refinery manager Kollin Schade, and refinery safety and security manager John O'Brien as defendants in addition to Superior Refining Company and previous owner Calumet Specialty Products Partners, L.P.

The men were working for contractors Evergreen North America and Jamar Contractors as part of a five-week turnaround to conduct maintenance at the facility.

"As they were performing their work, Plaintiffs heard a strange knocking noise. Plaintiffs and other employees rushed out of the Refinery, fearing that the Refinery was unsafe. However, the Husky Defendants' employees re-issued Plaintiffs' work permits and instructed them to return to the Refinery to continue the turnaround maintenance," the complaint reads.

The workers claim the explosion took place about 45 minutes after Husky employees told them to return to work. The complaint says the men were thrown to the ground and "showered with debris and shrapnel from the explosion."

There were 36 people who received medical care as a result of the explosion on April 26, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

The men allege Husky was negligent and failed to warn workers about dangers on site. They also claim the company didn't properly train or supervise contractors and failed to provide adequate safety equipment.

They say Husky should be held liable for their injuries and are seeking a jury trial. They're also seeking damages for pain and suffering, medical costs and lost wages in excess of $10,000.

The men's attorneys with Houston-based law firm Arnold & Itkin LLP could not immediately be reached on Thursday. Husky spokeswoman Kim Guttormson said in an email that the company is cooperating with agencies investigating the incident, but declined to comment further on pending litigation.

According to an update on the company's website, Husky has removed about 4,400 tons of asphalt from tanks at the refinery, as well as from stormwater sewers at the site. The company now employs around 600 people as part of maintenance at the site and the ongoing recovery. As of Aug. 28, Husky had processed 3,335 out of 3,392 claims submitted for food, lodging and other expenses related to the evacuation on April 26.

Investigations into the incident are ongoing.

This story was written by reporter Danielle Kaeding of Wisconsin Public Radio, read the story on their website here.

Correction: A previous version of this story reported that asphalt was being cleaned from stormwater sewers nearby the refinery. The story has been corrected to show that asphalt is being removed from stormwater sewers on site.