After years of legal battle, those affected by the 2012 M6 explosion at Camp Minden have been given the best news yet in their pursuit of damage compensation.
On Jan. 26, District Judge Parker Self ruled that insurers of Explo Systems Inc. acted in bad faith by intentionally withholding important information relevant to the suits against them.
Crum and Forster Specialty Insurance Company and Seneca Specialty Insurance Company, both of which were insuring Explo during the 2012 explosion, maintained through years of legal proceedings that they were unaware of the dangerous state of Explo’s operations. However, when proof was found in late 2017 that the insurers had indeed inspected the site, they belatedly produced the inspection report just after the period of discovery had passed.
Patrick Jackson, attorney representing the Louisiana Military Department against the insurance agencies, explained the context and meaning behind this ruling.
“When the explosion occurred, and people were harmed, whether property was destroyed or people were evacuated, they started making claims on the insurance policy of Explo,” Jackson said. “When they started making claims, the insurance company didn’t pay them.”
Four years of litigations against the insurance companies ensued. Lawsuits came from Doyline citizens, the state military department, the state police, and the Village of Doyline, each making claims for damages and seeking to recover under those policies.
“For the last four years, and even in federal court, they [the insurance companies] had made representations that Explo misled them as to what they were doing out there – the scope of what they were doing, the types of things they were doing,” Jackson said. “They also represented in federal and state court for four years that they had never sent an inspector to the facility. Inspections are standard course in commercial policies.”
The claim that no inspection had been made formed the basis for the defense’s argument that they were within their right to deny claims because they had no knowledge of Explo’s dangerous practices.
“The Explo insurers led us to believe that that process never occurred,” Jackson said. “That they didn’t know anything and just solely relied on Explo’s insurance application. So they denied everyone’s claims.”
Much later, an email was found that changed everything.
“Plaintiffs found a certain email which contained information from … an employee of one of the defendants, dated November 12, 2012, that indicated defendant had conducted a site visit to Explo’s Operation at Camp Minden in March of 2012,” Judge Self’s opinion reads.
In light of this proof that an inspection had taken place, defendants still did not produce the inspection report. When plaintiffs moved against the insurance companies for intentionally destroying evidence, defendants then submitted more than 10,000 pages of data just after the period of discovery ended, Jackson said.
With this new data belatedly in hand, plaintiffs motioned for spoliation, sanctions against the defendants, and the striking of pleadings that occurred before this information was revealed. Judge Self granted these motions.
“… this Court is convinced that some employee, either acting alone or in concert with other individuals, made a deliberate choice to remove the report which was generated as a result of the insurance company’s representatives visiting the Explo site prior to issuing their policies of insurance,” the opinion reads. “This deliberate act warrants some form of sanctions being imposed.”
“As a result of these bad faith actions by defendants, this Court believes it would only be appropriate to instruct the jury that defendants had constructive knowledge of the operations of Explo based upon a site visit which occurred six months before the policy of insurance was issued by defendants to Explo.”
While this ruling is a big win for the plaintiffs, a trial in April will bring everything closer to a final decision.
“It really will just depend on how things go, but we’re set for the first week of April to have a jury trial,” Jackson said. “This was about as good of a ruling as we could get.”
By Caleb Daniel, Minden Press-Herald