A Texas jury has handed down a $222 million verdict to the widow of one of two workers killed in a horrific steam accident at Evergy’s Jeffrey Energy Center power plant in 2018.
The jury found that Team Industrial Services, a subcontractor to Westar Energy, was 90% responsible for the death of Jesse Henson, a Westar employee from Manhattan, who was burned alive along with a co-worker, Damien “Craig” Burchett of Overbrook.
Westar, now called Evergy since its 2018 merger with Kansas City Power & Light, was found 10% responsible.
The accident occurred June 3, 2018, shortly after Team had finished rebuilding parts in three generation units at the coal-fired power plant near St. Mary’s.
The plant produces power by using burning coal to generate superheated steam that turns turbine generators.
Two of the three units Team worked on were restarted without incident, but the third didn’t come up to full power.
Burchett and Henson were sent to investigate a loss of steam at a safety relief valve, which is supposed to vent the steam outside the plant if the pressure in the system gets too high.
The two men took the elevator to the 14th floor of the plant where the steam valve is housed. But when the elevator doors opened, they were engulfed in superheated steam that had leaked from the defective rebuilt valve.
The case was tried in Texas because Team is based there. During trial, Team argued that Westar and Henson were largely responsible for the accident.
Lawyers for Henson’s widow hailed the jury decision for finding him blameless and pinning the responsibility on Team, a multinational corporation providing maintenance services for power plants in The U.S., Britain, Germany, Australia and other countries.
“For three years Team has denied responsibility for the horrific death of Jesse Henson,” said a statement issued by the plaintiff’s lawyers, Jason Itkin and S. Scott West.
“Today the jury’s verdict was loud and clear that human life matters, and that big companies cannot avoid responsibility for deadly workplace disasters,” the lawyers said.
Evergy spokeswoman Gina Penzig said the company hasn’t reviewed the decision and would have no immediate comment on the legal matters.
She did say, however, that “the incident that killed Jesse Henson was tragic and the loss of a loved one has saddened us all.”
A separate lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the surviving relatives of Burchett.