An industrial plant injury that killed two workers at the Westar Energy power plant northwest of Topeka, Kansas has led to a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of state law. The law limits the compensation available to survivors of those killed in on-the-job accidents to $250,000, and the suit has been filed on behalf of Bailey and Dalton Burchett, the children of one of the two men killed.
The industrial plant injuries that the men suffered followed a turbine being restarted after having been shut down for a three-month period for routine maintenance. Two of the three steam turbines, which carried high-pressure steam to drive the generators, started without a problem, but the third didn’t.
Burchett and his colleague Jesse Henson took an elevator to the plant’s 14th floor to determine whether there was a problem with a safety relief valve designed to vent the steam outside if the system’s pressure exceeded safe levels, but when the elevator door opened on the 14th floor, they found that the room was filled with steam, which entered the area where they were standing. The two suffered severe burns.
Steam Burns Lead to Industrial Plant Injury and Death
Both men died after suffering the industrial plant injury, and Burchett’s family’s lawsuit names the company that was responsible for the maintenance work, as well as the manufacturer of the steam valve and of the turbines themselves. They are not suing their father’s employer, as Kansas’ workers’ compensation law shields employers from legal action.
At the same time that the families are suing the manufacturers and subcontractors, they are challenging the state’s limit on non-monetary damages for personal injury claims, stating that the limit violates both federal and state guarantees of “equal protection, separation of powers, right to trial by jury, taking private property without just compensation, due process (and) free and open access to the courts.”