Lawsuit filed against Florida company in relation to pulp digester explosion

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JAY – A lawsuit filed in Franklin County Superior Court seeks to collect damages from a Florida-based company that the plaintiff says was responsible for inspecting and maintaining the pulp digester at the Androscoggin Mill that ruptured on April 15, 2020. The mill’s owner announced late last year that it would not replace the digester, and instead operate two of its machines with pulp trucked in from other mills.

Per the subrogated complaint filed with Franklin County Superior Court by Pixelle Speciality Solutions LLC and two associated LLCs, Trico Mechanical Contractors, Inc., based out of Pensacola, Fla., “inspected, maintained, serviced and repaired,” one of the two digesters at the mill. That digester, identified as ‘Digester A’ in the lawsuit, was primarily used for soft wood pulp manufacturing while the second – ‘Digester B’ – was used for hard wood pulp. In August 2018, the lawsuit indicates, Trico inspected and serviced Digester A.

“In November 2018, the Androscoggin Mill was told that the August 2018 inspections and repairs had returned digester A to an acceptable condition,” the suit reads.

Similarly, after inspection and work in September 2019 that included the repair of certain welds, Trico “had no open recommendations for Digester A that would prevent return to service,” Pixelle indicated in the suit. “In December 2019, the Androscoggin Mill was told that the September 2019 inspections and repairs had returned Digester A to an acceptable condition.”

On April 15, 2020, at approximately noon, Digester A “failed catastrophically,” as referenced in the suit, causing the 150-foot-tall digester to rupture and fall onto Digester B. The blast sent debris hundreds of feet into the air, showering the town in partially-treated wood fiber and resulting in no serious injuries.

Pixelle claims in the suit that the rupture of Digester A was caused when “[o]ne or more of the welds that were inspected, maintained, serviced and repaired by Defendant Trico failed ….”

The explosion damaged the mill’s buildings and equipment interrupted operations and forced the mill to use pulp purchased from other sites, Pixelle argued in the suit.

Factory Mutual Insurance Co., Pixelle’s insurer, paid $350 million to Pixelle following the explosion; Pixelle paid a $5 million deductible, per the terms of the policy. The lawsuit is being filed as a subrogated claim, meaning that the insurance company is seeking to recover funds paid out to the mill.

The suit makes three claims for relief, first arguing that Trico was negligent in failing to follow industry codes and standards, failing to properly inspect “certain seams, cracks, and welds,” and failing to ensure that welds wouldn’t fail during normal operations. Secondly, the suit argues that the defendant is obligated under contracts between Trico and Verso – the previous owner of the mill – to indemnify Pixelle, who acquired Verso’s rights as they apply to those contracts, for damage and losses sustained at the Androscoggin mill due to the rupture of Digester A. Finally, the plaintiff argues that Trico expressly warranted equipment and services provided in connection with the master services contract.

The plaintiff seeks to have Trico cover the cost of damages, including the property damage to the mill, costs associated with the demolition and cleanup, expenses relating to product manufacturing, as well as lost sales and profits. The plaintiff had requested a jury trial.

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