Federal lawsuit filed after steam-related deaths of two Westar workers Featured

A federal lawsuit has been filed in Kansas City, Kan., after the deaths of two Westar workers killed in an incident at the Jeffrey Energy Center near St. Mary. A federal lawsuit has been filed in Kansas City, Kan., after the deaths of two Westar workers killed in an incident at the Jeffrey Energy Center near St. Mary. Justice.gov photo

A federal lawsuit has been filed after the death of two Westar employees, including an Osage County man, earlier this year.

The lawsuit follows the steam-related deaths of Overbrook resident Damien Burchett and Manhattan resident Jesse Henson at Westar Energy’s Jeffrey Energy Center on June 3. It says the incident happened shortly after a turbine shut off for three months during routine maintenance was restarted. Two of the three steam turbines came back online without any trouble, but the third didn’t respond. Burchett and Henson were sent to investigate and, according to the lawsuit, were “engulfed in flesh-boiling steam.”

Family survivors are suing the Emerson Electric Company, which built the steam valve that allegedly failed in the incident, as well as Team Industrial Services, the company that handled the turbine maintenance project, and Siemens, the turbine manufacturer. The companies being sued have not commented.

Westar is not listed as a defendant.

Besides suing the companies, the lawsuit also challenges state law in several ways. It challenges the law limiting compensation for survivors of people killed in on-the-job incidents to a maximum of $250,000. Currently, state law says workers’ compensation is the only remedy for employees and the employer is immune from other legal actions -- although subcontractors or equipment manufacturers are not given that same immunity in case of lawsuits.

The lawsuit also challenges the law capping non-monetary damages in personal injury lawsuits at $250,000, saying the law violates a host of state and federal constitutional guarantees, including due process, equal protection, separation of powers and taking private property without just compensation.

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