Motley Rice and Co-Counsel Seek Justice for Army Vet Killed in Workplace Explosion

Widow files wrongful death suit four months after incident at facility associated with Eastman Chemical Company near Columbia, S.C.

Motley Rice LLC and co-counsel Johnson, Toal & Battiste, P.A.,  have filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the widow of 63-year-old Alton Ray Zeigler, a Richland County husband, father and grandfather tragically killed during a violent explosion Dec. 6, 2016 at a South Carolina branch of Eastman Chemical Company. Two others were severely burned in the incident.

“Weeks before Christmas, Mr. Zeigler was the victim of what we believe was a preventable tragedy,” said George Johnson of the Columbia, South Carolina law firm Johnson, Toal & Battiste.  

The federal suit, filed in the District of South Carolina, Orangeburg Division, alleges Eastman, a chemical, plastic and fiber manufacturer, neglected to adopt and implement adequate safety procedures and failed to exercise reasonable care and precautions that could have spared Mr. Zeigler’s life.  Mr. Zeigler was one of three DAK Americas employees attempting to repair a leaking pump in a pipeline owned by Eastman. Previous attempts by employees of the Mundy Companies to drain the pipeline resulted in a fire days earlier which is believed to have altered the chemical makeup of the pipeline’s contents and increased pressure within the pipeline by converting some liquid to gas.

The suit alleges that as a result of the increased pressure in the pipeline, an explosion erupted shortly after Mr. Zeigler and two other DAK Americas employees loosened bolts on a pump. The force of the explosion projected the pump, which weighed approximately 300 pounds, almost nine feet before coming to rest as it put a hole in a cement block wall. Roughly 500 gallons of the pipeline’s contents, which was heated to 300 degrees Celsius, were spewed throughout the workspace, causing Mr. Zeigler to suffer a ghastly death.   

“We believe that the increased pressure inside Eastman’s pipeline turned the conditions experienced by Mr. Zeigler and his co-workers from a pump removal into a bomb waiting to happen,” said Motley Rice attorney for the Zeigler family, Marlon Kimpson.

The suit alleges that Eastman knew or should have known the danger the altered chemicals posed to Mr. Zeigler, but that the company failed to warn him of the risks associated with the compromised pipeline.

“Knowing that his death likely could have been prevented, as we allege, had Eastman and Mundy taken proper steps to ensure Mr. Zeigler’s safety, makes his passing that much harder for his loved ones,” said Motley Rice attorney for the Zeigler family, David Hoyle.

Mr. Zeigler leaves behind his devoted wife, two adult children, and two grandchildren. He served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a master sergeant and beginning a second career with DAK Americas. Mr. Zeigler was an active member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“Mr. Zeigler was cherished in his community and he will be sorely missed,” Johnson said.

Read the full complaint.