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Employer must reimburse for settlement in third-party explosion suit

Employer must reimburse for settlement in third-party explosion suit

The Supreme Court of Nebraska ruled Friday that an employer who lost three workers in a gas-line explosion must reimburse an engineering firm that had settled $108.9 million in third-party lawsuits related to the 2008 incident.

The case arises from an explosion at a Conagra Foods Inc. plant in Garner, North Carolina, that killed three Conagra employees and injured more than 60 others while the food company was installing a new water heater.

When dozens of employees sued Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., which had provided a contracted engineer to oversee the project, the engineering firm settled the claims after failing to obtain contractual indemnification from Conagra, according to documents in Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. v. Conagra Foods Inc.

Jacobs then sued Chicago-based Conagra for indemnification in district court in Douglas County, Nebraska. Following a four-week trial, the jury awarded Jacobs the full amount of the settlement payments, $108.9 million.

Conagra appealed, stating error to the trial court's decision not to reduce the amount of damages awarded by the jury in one $17.7 million settlement, which it deemed “was arbitrary” — among other concerns with the settlements, court records state.

With two Nebraska Supreme Court judges not participating, Friday’s ruling, which found “no merit” in Conagra’s claims, affirmed the district court’s finding that Jacobs is owed the settlements and that the food company’s “negligence was proximate cause of Jacobs’ damages” stemming from the lawsuits following the explosion. 

Conagra officials could not immediately be reached for comment.





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