Colorado Court of Appeals dismisses lawsuits in 5 power plant deaths in 2007

DENVER – The Colorado Court of Appeals has dismissed lawsuits against three companies in the deaths of five workers at a power plant in 2007.

The appeals court agreed Thursday with a judge that there was no evidence that the companies violated duties or failed to provide adequate warnings of a fire hazard.

The workers died after a fire broke out inside a pipeline at Xcel Energy’s Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant near Georgetown, about 40 miles west of Denver. The men were inside the pipeline resealing it at the time.

The workers were trapped in the tunnel when a flammable solvent they were using to clean an epoxy paint sprayer ignited on Oct. 2, 2007.

Families of the men and four injured employees sued KTA-Tator Inc., Structural Integrity Associates Inc. and Graco, Inc., claiming the companies were negligent.

The court, however, noted that the sprayer used by the workers carried a warning that “flammable fumes, such as solvent and paint fumes, in (a) work area can ignite or explode” and offered safety options.

The workers communicated by radio for 45 minutes with colleagues and rescue crews. But reaching them would have involved using ropes or ladders to go down a 20-foot vertical section of tunnel then along a 1,000-foot section at a 55-degree slope, to reach the horizontal section where they were located.

Rescuers tried lowering air tanks to the workers, who were overcome by smoke and fumes.

Killed were Donald Dejaynes, 43, Dupree Holt, 37, James St. Peters, 52, Gary Foster, 48, and Anthony Aguirre, 18, all of California.

A specialty painting company pleaded guilty in 2011 to five counts of violating federal workplace safety rules.

Under terms of a plea agreement, RPI Coating Inc. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., agreed to pay $1.65 million in penalties and compensation, with most of that amount going to the victims’ families.

A judge sentenced RPI Coating to five years of probation immediately after its plea. A count of obstruction of justice and separate charges against RPI owner Philippe Goutagny and vice-president James Thompson were dismissed.

A jury in 2011 acquitted Xcel Energy of all criminal charges. The company has paid millions of dollars in compensation to the families.