In its lawsuit, filed this month in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Foundation Food Group complains it lost $465,711 in chicken that had to be thrown out when the plant was shut for inspections after the leak. The company says it lost another $1,247,062 in various expenses related to resuming operations weeks later.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial.
Meanwhile, relatives of some of the workers who died are suing Messer Gas in Gwinnett County, accusing the company of negligence. Foundation Food Group isn’t named in those lawsuits, which are plodding forward with depositions. Georgia law makes it difficult for survivors to sue over workplace deaths.
Workers and labor rights advocates have accused Foundation of negligence that allegedly contributed to the Jan. 28 leak and an ammonia leak on March 11.
“During both leaks, workers heard no alarms when toxic gas — both nitrogen and ammonia — was released into the air and all 130 workers were forced to exit through a single door due to a lack of sufficient emergency doors,” aide workers wrote in a March imminent danger complaint with OSHA. “Further, these workers (weren’t) provided with any trainings or drills on what to do in the event of a toxic release of gas.”
Foundation Food Group, which has denied allegations of negligence, has wrangled with authorities since Jan. 28 about the safety of its operations, shifting blame to Messer Gas.
The Gainesville plant’s lawsuit says workers repeatedly reported problems with a freezer in the days and weeks leading up to the horror that would unfold. The system, used to flash-freeze chicken on one of the plant’s production lines, had been serviced the previous day and the day before that by Messer Gas.
On the morning of the deaths, someone at Foundation Food Group fired up the machine, waiting for another visit from Messer, according to the plant’s suit. Messer Gas disputes that one of its employees was expected that day. The leak happened after 8:30 a.m., and according to Foundation’s filings, all six workers who died were responding to the emergency. They were inside the freezer room attached to the production line or attempting to enter when the frigid cloud of nitrogen killed them.
The dead are Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45, of Gainesville; Corey Alan Murphy, 35, of Clermont; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28, of Gainesville; Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41, of Dawsonville; Victor Vellez, 38, of Gainesville; and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28, of Gainesville.