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AL Solutions claims settled

NEW CUMBERLAND — The families of three men killed in an industrial accident in 2010 have reached a final settlement with two private equity firms that had invested in AL Solutions Inc., court records show.

The settlement for $17.5 million resolves a wrongful death lawsuit that has been pending in Hancock County Circuit Court for five years.

The families sued AL Solutions and its parent company, Tygem Holdings Inc., in May 2011 after an explosion at AL Solutions’ New Cumberland plant killed three employees — brothers James E. Fish, 38, and Jeffrey S. Fish, 39, both of New Cumberland, and Steven Swain, 27, of Weirton.

The Fish brothers were pronounced dead at the scene on Dec. 9, 2010, and Swain succumbed to injuries he suffered in the blast four days later in a Pittsburgh hospital.

The men’s estates also named two private equity firms — the New York-based BlackRock Capital Investment Corp. and the Boston-based Tremont Associates LLC — as defendants, alleging they improperly and negligently managed AL Solutions.

The families reached an agreement with AL Solutions and Tygem Holdings last year in which the companies’ insurance company paid them $15.8 million in exchange for the dismissal of the civil claims.

The families were able to draw down those funds, which had been deposited with the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, in the spring.

The Fish brothers’ mother, Flora Fish, executrix of their estates, filed a petition Monday asking Circuit Court Judge Ronald Wilson to approve a settlement with BlackRock and Tremont, the two remaining defendants. Wilson also must approve the distribution of the monetary settlement among the various family members and dismiss the claims against BlackRock and Tremont.

“This has been long and complicated,” said Weirton attorney Mark Colantonio, who is representing the Fish family. “It’s not been an easy path, but we believe that we got a very good result for the families.”

The petition states BlackRock has agreed to pay $17.5 million, including $10.3 million to the estates of Jeffrey and James Fish and $6.8 million to the estate of Swain, and that Tremont has agreed to transfer all of its stock to the plaintiffs.

The net settlement proceeds will be lower because of attorney fees and advanced litigation expenses, the petition reads.

Colantonio said this is one of the first times a case alleging improper and negligent management has been litigated successfully in the United States.

“One thing I’ve learned from doing this for 30 years — you can get over the loss of a parent, you can get over the loss of a sibling, but you can never get over the loss of a son,” he said.

The case had been scheduled to go to trial in September, but the parties entered into settlement negotiations and mediation.

In addition to the lawsuits, the December 2010 accident triggered investigations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

AL Solutions reached a settlement with the EPA and OSHA in early 2014, requiring the company to, among other things, pay a $100,000 civil penalty to the EPA and a $97,000 penalty to the U.S. Department of Labor.

As part of its settlement with the EPA and OSHA, AL Solutions resolved a host of issues pertaining to the storage of metals onsite in New Cumberland — issues the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had noted as violations in previous inspections.

In July 2014, the Chemical Safety Board concluded the fatal explosion was caused by combustible titanium and zirconium dusts processed at the New Cumberland facility. Subsequent testing done on zirconium and titanium samples determined the materials were combustible and capable of causing an explosion when lofted near heat or an ignition source, the board’s report said.

Meeting in Charleston three and a half years after the accident, the board said AL Solutions had failed to properly maintain blender equipment, did not have an effective dust collection program and used a water deluge system that may have contributed to the explosion.

Since the fatal accident, AL Solutions has moved most of its processing operations to a new facility in Burgettstown.

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