Litigation over the May 2002 fatal explosion and fire at Rouse Polymerics International Inc. has come full circle.
Michael Rouse, president and CEO of Rouse Polymerics, is accusing Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Astec Industries Inc. and its subsidiaries-Astec Inc. and Heatec Inc.-of designing and installing a faulty processing and dryer system at the Rouse fine-mesh recycled polymer plant in Vicksburg.
The Astec system provided the ignition source that caused the explosion and fire that killed five Rouse Polymerics employees and seriously injured seven others, according to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Western Division.
The suit was filed on May 16, the third anniversary of the Vicksburg fire. Rouse seeks more than $47 million in damages.
``What shocks the most is that Astec knew that its processing system was dangerous, knew the environment in which it would be placed, but still failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that the design of the decision was safe,'' Mr. Rouse said in a June 20 press release.
>From his new home in Oregon, Mr. Rouse said it had taken him this long to file a lawsuit against Astec because he needed time to gain some perspective on what really happened on May 16, 2002.
``I think things have settled down enough to allow me to see what had gone on,'' he said. ``I hired an outside company to design a processing system for me, we had a fire and explosion, and this hurt a lot of people.''
His company still faces a suit from Astec and its subsidiaries before the Chattanooga federal district court. Astec seeks indemnification for the suits brought by the families of the fire's victims-i.e. whatever Astec is assessed in punitive and compensatory damages, Astec claims, Rouse should pay.
Attorneys for Astec could not be reached for comment.
The families of two workers who died in the fire also named Mr. Rouse and Rouse Polymerics as defendants in their lawsuits, according to attorneys representing Mr. Rouse.
Yolanda Jackson, daughter of Alfred Harrison, dropped them as defendants in her suit, but they are mentioned in the still-pending case brought by Audra Smith, widow of C. Theodore Smith.
Rouse Polymerics still exists, Mr. Rouse said, but he no longer owns the Vicksburg plant he built after the destruction of the older, larger operation. He sold those assets last September to his daughter, Julie Johnson, who started Specialty Elastomer Recovery Inc., a new business unrelated to Rouse Polymerics.
Specialty Elastomer Recovery specializes in custom regrinding of engineered elastomers and polymers, according to Ms. Johnson. It employs a total of seven workers, she added.
Mr. Rouse said he has been acting as a consultant to his daughter's business and to other businesses and has also written two chapters for an upcoming book on scrap tire recycling.