ITC starts paying out claims as lawsuits mount after Deer Park chemical fire
Intercontinental Terminals Company is starting to evaluate and pay out claims by people and businesses affected by the three-day chemical fire two months ago, the company said Friday.
Paying the claims could protect ITC from some legal actions, but the company is still facing nearly two dozen civil suits from individuals and businesses over the incident, including some of of its competitors, Harris County court records show. ITC is owned by the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui.
Shortly after the March 17 fire, ITC opened a claims hotline and website for people who lived and worked Deer Park to file for out-of-pocket medical expenses related to the incident or hourly workers’ lost wages for missed work because of the shelter-in-place order after the fire. The company said Friday people still have until June 25 to file a claim.
Individuals with health claims may receive up to $750 and hourly workers who lost wages during the shelter-in-place order may receive up to $500, if they provide the right paperwork to prove they were affected.
On HoustonChronicle.com: ITC resumes rail, truck activity at Deer Park terminal
An ITC spokesperson said the company does not know how many eligible claims have been filed. The company said it would evaluate claims “quickly and on a rolling basis” and would pay out eligible claims within 30 days of when claimants turn in the necessary documentation.
People and businesses seeking payouts must sign a release agreeing not to take further legal action against ITC in connection with the fire. ITC, however, stills faces a federal lawsuit from a Harris County woman seeking class action status in addition to 22 civil lawsuits in state court in Harris County. Those include several suits from residents who live near the site and at least two nearby businesses.
The Harris County District Attorney’s office also has filed a criminal case, charging ITC with five misdemeanor counts of water pollution arising from the accident.
In early May, the Dutch company Vopak, which owns a neighboring terminal, sued ITC in Harris County District Court, alleging the fire caused significant business disruptions and profit losses. Vopak operates an adjacent tank farm with 243 tanks and 7.8 million barrels of storage capacity and shares a fenceline and rail service with ITC’s Deer Park terminal.
Vopak said in court papers that it incurred additional costs cleaning runoff and pollutants that washed ashore on its property and damaged its docks. For nearly a month after the fire, Vopak said its Houston facility and neighboring business were shut off or significantly limited; and the company continued to experience periodic closures and inconsistent rail, truck and marine access for several weeks as result of clean up efforts and safety concerns.
A transportation company, First Coast Logistics of Jacksonville, Fla., also is suing ITC in Harris County District Court, alleging it lost business and incurred property damage at its La Porte terminal as a result of the ITC fire.
ITC decline to comment on pending litigation.
Nearly normal rail and truck service resumed at ITC this week, a few weeks after the terminal’s docks reopened in early May. Clean up of the impacted tank farms is ongoing.