Texas Fertilizer Plant Had an Exemption Regarding Workplace Inspections

It remains to be seen how many lawsuits will be filed as a result of the West Chemical and Fertilizer explosion.

The day of the explosion, at least 14 people lost their lives, and part of a small Texas town was obliterated. From media reports to date, it appears the plant’s owners were relying on a decades old exemption allowing them to avoid targeted workplace safety requirements and various inspections, and kept them from participating in a prevention program involving environmental officials.

The owner relied on an exemption that was nearly twenty years old, a claim the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) vowed to investigate. By shielding the plant in the name of the stated exemption, the company was then only required to adhere to more lenient rules and regulations and ultimately, also be able to steer clear of various OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules.

The implications of the company’s claim may have an impact on other businesses that store large amounts of dangerous chemicals. If what West Fertilizer states is true — that they may sell primarily to end users and thus avoid stricter regulations —- the chemical storage industry may become a horrific time bomb looking for a place to explode.

In the case of West Fertilizer, they had been sitting on 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that should have flagged them for inspection. Oversights, or legislative flaws such as this one, need to be addressed, as workers’ lives are at stake.

As it stands, the retail exemption works to allow a company an exemption from more strict regulations, provided that more than half of their sales were to end users —- such a farmers. Apparently, the OSHA does not check such claims out, unless the site is inspected.

In the meantime, thanks to loopholes build into legislation that should protect employees in workplaces such as this, people are dying. The West Fertilizer plant has not been inspected since 1985. Certainly something is wrong with that picture.

This explosion is a clear example of why workplaces should not self-designate their status to avoid government rules intended to protect workers. Workers who lost their lives in this blast or were seriously injured should speak to a skilled Austin injury lawyer to find out what their rights are and how they may obtain compensation.

Posted on: June 24, 2013 | Tagged


This weekend, Austin is hosting one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world. Unfortunately, the last several ROT Rallies have resulted in too many fatalities, about three per year if I was guessing.

As is our tradition, I’m again posting our safety tips to help prevent motorcycle injuries.  As they use to say in CHIPS, one of my favorite shows as a kid, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Here are the Motorcycle Safety Foundations top ten things that drivers need to know about motorcycles:

1. There are a lot more cars and trucks than motorcycles on the road, and some drivers don’t “recognize” a motorcycle; they ignore it (usually unintentionally). Look for motorcycles, especially when checking traffic at an intersection.

2. Because of its small size, a motorcycle may look farther away than it is. It may also be difficult to judge a motorcycle’s speed. When checking traffic to turn at an intersection or into (or out of) a driveway, predict a motorcycle is closer than it looks.

3. Because of its small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car’s blind spots (door/roof pillars) or masked by objects or backgrounds outside a car (bushes, fences, bridges, etc). Take an extra moment to thoroughly check traffic, whether you’re changing lanes or turning at intersections.

4. Because of its small size a motorcycle may seem to be moving faster than it really is. Don’t assume all motorcyclists are speed demons.

5. Motorcyclists often slow by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle, thus not activating the brake light. Allow more following distance, say 3 or 4 seconds. At intersections, predict a motorcyclist may slow down without visual warning.

6. Turn signals on a motorcycle usually are not self-canceling, thus some riders, (especially beginners) sometimes forget to turn them off after a turn or lane change. Make sure a motorcycle’s signal is for real.

7. Motorcyclists often adjust position within a lane to be seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles, and wind. Understand that motorcyclists adjust lane position for a purpose, not to be reckless or show off or to allow you to share the lane with them.

8. Maneuverability is one of a motorcycle’s better characteristics, especially at slower speeds and with good road conditions, but don’t expect a motorcyclist to always be able to dodge out of the way.

9. Stopping distance for motorcycles is nearly the same as for cars, but slippery pavement makes stopping quickly difficult. Allow more following distance behind a motorcycle because it can’t always stop “on a dime.”

10. When a motorcycle is in motion, don’t think of it as motorcycle; think of it as a person.


If you want to see additional videos on motorcycle safety or read additional tips, simply search this site for ROT Rally.


If you or a loved one has been hurt in a motorcycle accident, please call us at (512)476-4944 and give us the opportunity to help you.

There are some relations that are not entitled to wrongful death settlement monies. An ex-wife may fall into that category.

A recent case in West Virginia resulted in a decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court that the ex-wife of a man who lost his life in a motorcycle accident was not entitled to any proceeds from his estate.

As it turned out, the decedent’s estate was able to negotiate $300,000 on a successful wrongful death lawsuit. All of it was deemed to be paid to the man’s estate, for eventual dispersal to his heirs. The will did not make it to probate, because the man’s ex-wife said he owed her at least $50,000 for unpaid child support.

The issue was not that the man was not paying his support. He had started paying the required monthly amount in 2003. At the time he died, the children were adults and he had no further obligations to support them.

The language of the wrongful death statute in West Virginia states only an individual who was financially dependent on the deceased could file a claim to any proceeds from the estate, and that included someone who was not a relative of the deceased.

In this instance, the court decided the ex-wife was not a relative and furthermore, was not financially dependent on the man. She sent any money she did get from him in the form of child support to her adult children, keeping none back for herself. In short, the court indicated she did not need the money and therefore was not entitled to a share of the wrongful death proceeds.

In filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas, the plaintiff needs to know precisely what rules may apply to them. Without a clear understanding of how the Texas statute reads, the family may be surprised to find out that proceeds may have to be divided in a certain manner.

Generally, in Texas, wrongful death claims may only be brought by the surviving spouse, children and parents of the deceased. Additionally, some claims may belong to the deceased’s estate. But this West Virginia case is an example of some of the nuances that make pursuing claims so difficult.

Getting a settlement is only half the battle and you need a competent Austin wrongful death lawyer to guide you through the process.

Posted on: June 12, 2013 | Tagged

Schuelke Law maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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