In the late night of Jan. 7, 2019, a fire explosion caused significant injury to two employees of an independently contracted janitorial team, Alvin Spencer and Frederick Avery, after being directed to clean grout with a flammable solvent by their client, Capital Chevrolet Inc.
Prior to the incident, the general manager of Capital Chevrolet was unhappy with the grout results so far and provided Avery with an unidentified canister of solvent to use, plaintiff attorney Jodee Sparkman Larcade reported. After Avery “tried out” the solvent and it seemed to work, the manager then showed him where to find more solvent while cleaning that evening.
The solvent was later identified as “brake wash,” a highly flammable chemical that is used to degrease metal car parts.
According to Sparkman Larcade, after Avery spread solvent was spread on the floor, Spencer turned on the floor buffer, which ignited a fire explosion.
“Quite frankly, introducing a flammable solvent into that kind of work environment rose to a level of wanton disregard for the safety of others,” Sparkman Larcade said.
Spencer and Avery both experienced severe burns and were sent to the burn center in Chapel Hill where they received months of treatment.
According to Sparkman Larcade, the defense disputed liability, arguing that the plaintiffs should have known not to use the solvent and had a responsibility familiarize themselves with the product prior to using it.
“They were familiar with the chemical components of the solvents that they normally use and have used for years and years,” Sparkman Larcade said. “But that night they were unfamiliar with it. And quite frankly, for my clients, when the boss tells you to do something, they’re gonna do it.”
According to Sparkman Larcade, following the explosion Spencer and Avery suffered severe burns, PTSD, closed head injuries, and permanent neurological deficits, that they continue to receive treatment for.
On Sept. 8, 2022, the plaintiffs settled for a total of $5 million. Defense attorney, Rodney E. Pettey did not respond for comment.
Is this a verdict or a settlement? Settlement
Type of case: Fire explosion
Amount: 5 million
Injuries alleged: Severe burns, disfigurement, scarring, PTSD, closed head injury, permanent neurological deficits, lost income, and future earning capacity
Case name: Alvin Spencer and Frederick Avery v. Capital Chevrolet Inc.
Court: Wake County Superior
Case No.: 20-CVS-661
Mediator: Asa L. Bell
Date of settlement: Sept. 8, 2022
Special damages: Punitive damages
Insurance carrier: Zurich American Insurance Company
Attorney(s) for plaintiff and their firm(s): Jodee Sparkman Larcade and Wade E. Byrd
Attorney(s) for defendant and their firm(s): Rodney E. Pettey
Was the opposing represented by counsel? Yes
Were liability and/or damages contested? Yes