Expert Opinion and Litigation Support
Understanding what led to an accident involving chemicals requires fully understanding the links between the desired and undesired chemistries involved, and how those reactions were manipulated and controlled at the time of the accident. If the chemical reactions are the desired ones and are proceeding as anticipated the process is under control – box 1, right. However, upsets in either the chemistry or the operating conditions, or both, may ultimately lead to personnel injury, loss of containment, and environmental damage, boxes 2 & 3.
Dr. Leggett has, as a consultant for the last 25 years, been involved in chemical process safety focusing on compliance, risk analysis for existing processes, and accident investigations. Dr. Leggett’s opinions draw from 40 years of practicing chemistry in academic, industrial, and consulting environments. He has wide experience in chemistry and chemical engineering, and how these disciplines integrate to successful chemical process safety. Together with his regulatory compliance experience, Dr. Leggett provides legal teams with the opportunity to fully understand the technical aspects, and compliance lapses, of an accident resulting from undesired chemical reactions or process upsets.
During the last 20 years he has provided expert opinion on a variety of litigated matters relating to chemical and hazardous material handling and management. His recent litigation support includes:
- For Plaintiffs: A fire and explosion (West Fertilizer Company, 2013) resulted in 15 fatalities and extensive damage to the facility and the surrounding neighborhood. Expert opinion and testimony was provided, for plaintiffs, regarding ammonium nitrate (AN) chemistry and decompositions, AN accident history, industry practices for storage of oxidizers and AN, industry practice for product stewardship of hazardous materials, and interpretation of thermal hazards test results of AN.
- For Defendants: While preparing a sodium acetate / acetic acid buffer solution the operator received facial burns and was blinded. It was determined that sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) had been used instead of sodium acetate. Mixing caustic soda with glacial acetic acid generates sufficient reaction heat to cause the mixture to violently boil. Chemical testing was performed to confirm the opinions.
- For Defendants: During the distillation of nitric acid (HNO3), in glass, an internal failure led to mixing of the hot acid with the coolant, ethylene glycol (EG). The ensuing explosion destroyed the facility, which had recently changed ownership. Expert opinion and testimony was provided, for plaintiff, regarding nitration chemistry, adequacy of original HNO3 distillation unit design, appropriateness of heat transfer fluids used, completeness of PHA’s performed, industry practices for handling HNO3, reactivity of HNO3 with organic materials, and analysis of thermal hazards testing of HNO3 and EG mixtures.
- For Plaintiffs: An operator was exposed to hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and subsequently died following his attempts to fix a rotating seal leak on the digester. Litigation support by LTC comprised a demonstration of the client’s (manufacturer of the digester) compliance with federal regulations, and the defendant’s failure to provide adequate operator protections.
- For Defendants: During the mixing of Al powder, sodium hydrosulfite, and other ingredients in a rotating V-blender, the mass began to exotherm. Attempts to remove the hot material from the blender resulted in a violent explosion and five fatalities. Subrogation claims against the blender manufacturer (client) cited equipment design errors for the fatalities.
- For Defendants: A catastrophic loss of containment of a vessel involved in processing isocyante residues led to extensive facility damage and injuries. Analysis of the process, procedures, thermal decomposition chemistry , air dispersion modeling, and compliance with 29CFR1910.119 was used to support client’s (defendant) position in subsequent law suits.
- For Plaintiffs: Sodium chlorate super sacks caught fire and exploded leading to extensive damage to the owner’s facility. The packaging methods, storage conditions, and the materials used in the sodium chlorate package contributed to the fire and explosion. LTC also provided expert testimony in a second, related case involved the insurers of an adjacent property that was also destroyed in the fire.