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Originally published Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 6:49 PM

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Texas plant with deadly blast had only $1M insurance

An attorney involved in lawsuits filed over the West, Texas, explosion said the small insurance policy was not surprising because of the state’s lack of regulation and oversight of hazardous activities.

The Associated Press

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MCALLEN, Texas — The Texas fertilizer plant that exploded last month, killing 14 people, injuring more than 200 others and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage to the surrounding area had only $1 million in liability coverage, lawyers said Saturday.

Tyler lawyer Randy Roberts said he and other attorneys who have filed lawsuits against West Fertilizer’s owners were told last week that the plant carried only $1 million in liability insurance. Brook Laskey, an attorney hired by the plant’s insurer to represent West Fertilizer, confirmed the amount Saturday in an email. The Dallas Morning News first reported the figure.

“The bottom line is, this lack of insurance coverage is just consistent with the overall lack of responsibility we’ve seen from the fertilizer plant, starting from the fact that from day one they have yet to acknowledge responsibility,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he expects the plant’s owner to ask a judge to divide the $1 million in insurance money among the plaintiffs, several of whom he represents, and then file for bankruptcy.

He said he wasn’t surprised the plant was carrying such a small policy.

“It’s rare for Texas to require insurance for any kind of hazardous activity,” he said. “We have very little oversight of hazardous activities and even less regulation.”

A fire April 17 at West Fertilizer in West, a town 70 miles south of Dallas, was quickly followed by an earthshaking explosion that left a 90-foot wide crater and damaged homes, schools and nursing home within a 37-block blast zone. Among those killed were 10 emergency responders.

State and federal investigators haven’t determined what caused the blast.

The plant had reported just months before the blast that it had the capacity to store 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, but it was unknown how much was there at the time of the explosion.

Roberts said that even without a conclusive cause, negligence lawsuits can proceed.

Lawyers will look for any other assets the company might have and search for other responsible parties, he said.

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