A Pennsylvania candy manufacturer ignored warnings of a gas leak at its chocolate factory and is responsible for a subsequent explosion that killed seven workers and injured several more, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The family of Judith “Judy” Lopez-Moran, a 55-year-old mother of three, filed what her lawyers called the first wrongful death lawsuit against RM Palmer Co. after the March 24 explosion in West Reading.
Workers smelled gas that day and notified Palmer, but the 75-year-old family business «did nothing.» the suit said.
“The gas leak at the factory and the horrific explosion it caused were foreseeable, predictable and preventable,” the lawsuit said. «Tragically, the death and suffering of Judith Lopez-Moran was preventable.»
The lawsuit, filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, also names the gas utility UGI. Messages were sent to Palmer and UGI seeking comment.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the explosion, which destroyed a building in the factory complex and damaged several other buildings in West Reading, a small town 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Federal security officials previously confirmed they were studying the role of a natural gas pipeline in the explosion. The National Transportation Safety Board called what happened a «natural gas» explosion and fire, citing preliminary information from local authorities and the utility about the role of the pipeline.
Palmer officials should have evacuated immediately after being told about the smell of gas, but instead they «made a statement to factory workers, including Judith Lopez-Moran, that the factory was safe and that there were no gas leaks,” the lawsuit says.
Palmer, according to the lawsuit, “intended to mislead factory workers…so that factory workers would continue to work and so that factory downtime would be minimized.”
Patricia Borges, who survived the blast and was a friend and co-worker of López-Morán, previously recounted how her arm caught fire when flames engulfed the building. She then fell through the floor into a vat of liquid chocolate. Borges told The Associated Press that she and others had complained of a gas smell about 30 minutes before the factory exploded.
Palmer has offered his condolences but has otherwise said little since the explosion.
“The seven we lost will always be in our prayers, and to those who were injured we wish a speedy recovery. Over the many years we have worked together, many have become personal friends and all valued members of the Palmer team. Their loss will be felt forever,» the Palmer family said in a statement five days after the explosion.
The law firm representing the López-Morán family, Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky, said it represents more than a dozen victims of the explosion.