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Candy company ignored worker complaints of gas leak before deadly factory explosion: Lawsuit


On March 24, 2023, an explosion at the R.M. Palmer confectionary factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, leveled the building. (Image via court filing/complaint).

Survivors of a woman killed in a devastating gas explosion at a candy factory say that the company’s failure to properly respond to the possibility of a gas leak is why their mother is dead.

Judith Lopez-Moran, 55, was killed in the explosion that decimated the R.M. Palmer Company chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 24. Seven people died, and several others were injured.

According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the candy company and an area utilities company, the explosion — which leveled the building — was preventable.

Lopez-Moran’s three surviving children say the explosion was “caused by a natural gas leak which emanated from and/or originated from a UGI natural gas pipeline.”

A federal investigation is underway, and the cause of the explosion has not yet been confirmed.

According to the complaint, people at the factory smelled gas on the day of the explosion, but no action was taken.

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“Defendants were notified about the smell of gas prior to the explosion,” the complaint says. “Upon information Defendants did nothing in response to these complaints.”

The candy factory, the complaint says, was “responsible for ensuring that in the event of a suspected or potential gas leak, all workers were immediately evacuated from the Factory and appropriate authorities were contacted to timely determine the source of any potential gas leak.”

That evacuation never happened, and authorities weren’t contacted. According to the complaint, R.M. Palmer “knew or should have known” that a failure to immediately evacuate the factory in the event of a gas leak “would expose workers, including Judith Lopez-Moran, to an unreasonable and unacceptable risk of severe injury and/or death.”

The complaint also says that the factory had received “numerous” complaints and warnings concerning a “suspected, potential, and/or actual gas leak at the Factory, including on the date of the explosion,” but did nothing.

In fact, according to the complaint, the candy factory told workers, including Lopez-Moran, that “there was no gas leak and that they were to continue working despite knowing that appropriate action was not being taken” to address the suspected gas leak.

The lawsuit alleges negligence, intentional misrepresentation, and wrongful death. Lopez-Moran’s family members are seeking more than $50,000 in damages but did not specify an exact amount in the complaint.

As of Wednesday, the R.M. Palmer website opened on a message from the company about the explosion.

“Everyone at R.M. Palmer continues to grieve for the incomprehensible loss of our friends and colleagues,” the statement says, adding “heartfelt condolences to all of those who have lost loved ones” and hopes for a quick recovery of those who were injured.

“As we return to work, the safety of our employees and our community remains our top priority, and we are committed to providing all the resources we can to those affected by this incident,” the statement adds, noting that the company has set up a “crisis line” that will remain open “for the foreseeable future” as well as grief counseling.

Read the complaint, via local NBC affiliate WFMJ here.

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