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Legal Expert: City of West’s Lawsuit “Difficult Case To Win”

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jack Fink
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WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) – Dena Mayo has owned the Wild Bill’s Outlaw Steakhouse in West for two years.

She says, “It’s a small town. We’re just a small Mom and Pop shop.”

Many of her customers’ homes were destroyed when the West Fertilizer Company plant exploded last April.

Click For Comprehensive Coverage of the West Fertilizer Plant Explosion

She doesn’t know what to think of the lawsuit the city filed against the plant’s owner. “I know the owners of the West Fertilizer plant personally. I know they’d never intentionally harm someone else, but whether they did it intentionally or not, it happened.”

In its lawsuit, the city claims plant operator Adair Grain was negligent in the way it stored the ammonium nitrate, the chemical that caused the massive blast.

The city says it needs $17 million to fix its streets, water and sewer lines that were destroyed in the blast.

Yet the fertilizer plant was insured for $1 million.

Scott Deatherage is a Dallas attorney specializing in environmental law.

He says, “The people who may have been responsible for it may not have the assets or the insurance to pay for the damages.”

On Monday, Donald Adair declined comment.

The lawsuit focuses mostly on CF Industries, which manufactures the chemical.

Deatherage says, “I think it’s going to be a difficult case to win.”

He questions the lawsuit’s claims that CF Industries was negligent because it didn’t properly inspect West Fertilizer before selling the company the chemical, and that the product was defective.

Deatherage says, “Consider ammonium nitrate is a very common material sold all over the country, all over Texas, and it’s used everyday. So to argue that particular product is somewhat defective is extremely difficult. It’d be like saying gasoline is defective because it exploded somewhere.”

In a statement, CF Industries tells us, “…There is no basis for this suit against CF Industries and its subsidiaries and that the company should not have been added to this lawsuit. The CF Industries’ companies will seek dismissal of this lawsuit and otherwise defend the company vigorously in court.”

The attorney representing the city, Stephen Harrison, didn’t return a call Monday.

The city’s lawsuit comes after FEMA wouldn’t issue a major disaster declaration for this small city.

That means the feds won’t help pay millions of dollars needed to re-build city infrastructure and schools.

West ISD’s superintendent Marty Crawford says the school district has no plans to file a lawsuit against either company, but is keeping its options open.

The school district says it will cost at least $80 million to re-build its high school and middle school.

Crawford says insurance will cover about $60 million, leaving the district to find at least $20 million.

Despite the city’s steep challenges, Dena Mayo refuses to give up hope. “We’re not going to sit around and wait for someone else to help us. We’ll figure it out.”

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