TAMPA — Two contractors for Tampa Electric Co. are suing the utility over an October accident that left one with "permanent total disability" and another with "substantial injuries." The accident happened at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, the same facility where five workers were killed in another accident four months earlier.
According to the lawsuits, which were filed in Hillsborough County circuit court March 2 and March 6, Donald Gansner and James Carter both worked for Zachry Industrial Inc. at the time. They were called to the plant to fix a water leak coming from the cooling system of the Unit 3 boiler.
When they arrived, the complaint said, the water was coming out of a hatch on the condenser "at a substantial rate."
"Before (Gansner) and his crew obtained permission to work on the door leak, or perform any work on the unit, the access door suddenly blew open, causing (him) to be struck with a large column of water under substantial pressure," the lawsuit said.
According to a lawyer for the two injured workers, Robert Jordan, the column of water was about two feet in diameter.
"Most people admit that if a worker is watching a piece of equipment, it shouldn't explode," Jordan said.
Tampa Electric said it does not comment on pending litigation.
The force mangled Gansner's leg and split his skull open. He currently uses a walker to get around. Carter suffered a compression fracture in his spine.
While Carter was only briefly hospitalized, Gansner was in the hospital for about a week. His medical expenses currently top $150,000, Jordan said. Gansner has been unable to work since, his attorney said, and Carter has returned to work doing a less physically-intense job.
Both accuse Tampa Electric of negligence by failing to make access to the door safe, failing to fix or request a fix for the panel, knowing that the door hardware wasn't strong enough and using too much pressure in the condenser unit to clean it.
Jordan said the door was not reinforced the way that another door on the equipment was. The pressure in the equipment, he said, was cranked up to nearly five times its normal pressure to clear debris, resulting in massive pressure that caused the accident.
They are suing for unspecified damages for the physical and mental pain the accident caused to them and their families.
When asked about details of that October incident during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in February, CEO Nancy Tower described the then-unnamed workers as being "pushed across the plant" by gushing water.
Per Tampa Electric's practice, Tower said, all of the condenser doors were inspected after the incident, and the door that injured the men was replaced.
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"That one was sort of one-of-a-kind in terms of its configuration, and so that has been changed," Tower said at the time.
The lawsuits come amid Tampa Electric's renewed push for safety. The move was spurred by the June incident, in which five workers were killed performing maintenance the utility knew was dangerous.
Tampa Electric was fined $126,749 by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration following an investigation of the accident. OSHA also designated the utility's violation as "willful," which is one of the most serious violations. Tampa Electric is currently contesting the designation.
Tower, who took over in December, has emphasized a commitment to making sure all Tampa Electric employees work safely.
"It doesn't matter if you're a contractor or an employee of the company, you should come to work and leave in the exact same condition," she said.
Contact this reporter at email@example.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.