Family of Man Killed in Chemical Explosion Awarded $15M

The 2020 explosion demolished the entire building.

Kristen Kazarian, Managing Editor

May 3, 2024

2 Min Read
Family of Man Killed in Chemical Explosion Awarded $15M
The trial started in April and reached the verdict yesterday, holding two of the companies at fault.utah778 / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

A jury in Kanawha County, WV, has awarded $15 million to the family of a man who died in a chemical plant explosion in 2020, the WVNews reported.

The man, 42-year-old John Mark Gillenwater II, was an employee at Optima. He died in an explosion at Optima's plant in Belle, WV, on December 8, 2020.

Tina Gillenwater, the widow of the deceased, had filed the lawsuit. She represented herself and her late husband's estate. The lawsuit was against Optima Belle LLC, The Chemours Co., Clearon Corp., Chemours Co. FC LLC, and Richman Chemical Inc. Chemours owned three buildings at the plant where the explosion happened. Clearon had an agreement with Optima to dry chlorinated dry bleach at the plant, the WVNews article shared.

On the day of the explosion, Clearon gave Optima chlorinated dry bleach for the first time, which was also the first time the company and its workers dried chlorinated dry bleach. The explosion was so strong that it threw Gillenwater from the inside of the building to the outside, destroying the building in the process.

The jury found Clearon directly responsible for Gillenwater's death due to negligence. They also held Clearon accountable for the damage to Chemours' property.

The jury found Clearon 70% at fault and Optima 30% at fault for the explosion. They did not find Richman Chemical at fault. The jury awarded $10 million for wrongful death damages and $5 million for Gillenwater's pain and suffering before his death. Chemours also received $4.1 million for property damage.

In 2023, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said the explosion occurred after a dryer was over-pressurized due to an uncontrolled chemical reaction. The board concluded that the plant did not properly understand or manage the risks or detect and control the self-accelerating reaction.

About the Author(s)

Kristen Kazarian

Managing Editor

Kristen Kazarian has been a writer and editor for more than three decades. She has worked at several consumer magazines and B2B publications in the fields of food and beverage, packaging, processing, women's interest, local news, health and nutrition, fashion and beauty, automotive, and computers.

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