Neighbor sues over fatal chocolate factory explosion

ByNadine El-Bawab ABCNews logo
Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Pennsylvania woman who lives next to a chocolate factory that exploded Friday has filed a lawsuit accusing the company of negligence that led to the fatal explosion.

Betty Wright claimed that she was home at the time of the explosion and was "lifted from her feet and blown across the room causing severe and permanent injuries," according to the lawsuit.

Seven people died and several others were injured after the explosion at the factory in West Reading.

According to officials, the explosion caused destruction to one building nearby and damaged another. West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said the incident was so strong it pushed a building back four feet.

According to the lawsuit, Wright sustained cervical, lumbar, hip and leg injuries in addition to anxiety and the loss of property and belongings as a result of the explosion.

Wright alleged she suffered "a significant wage loss" and impairment to earning capacity or potential, according to the lawsuit. She also said she lost access to her apartment and belongings.

She says the company failed to "properly inspect, repair and/or test the property to prevent this catastrophic explosion," according to the lawsuit.

"Proper maintenance, monitoring, inspection and/or testing by [R. M. Palmer] would have revealed the existence of the potential explosive condition," the lawsuit says.

Wright also alleged that at no point prior to the explosion did the company warn her of the "dangerous and explosive hazard that was present in or around her apartment which was in the zone of danger," according to the suit.

She is asking for damages in excess of $50,000, according to the suit.

An investigation into the cause of the explosion will be conducted, officials said last week.

"In the initial incident report from Berks County to PEMA, a reference to a gas leak was included. It is really important to note that incident reports from counties are a snapshot in time of the understanding of the incident at the time the report was made," Ruth A. Miller, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency's communications director, said in a statement last week.

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said it is launching a safety investigation looking into the natural gas explosion and fire.

The company established a crisis hotline for anyone who needs support and will be offering employees grief counseling, according to a statement on Facebook.

The company did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment about the lawsuit, but released a statement Saturday regarding the explosion.

"Everyone at R.M. Palmer is devastated by the tragic events at one of our West Reading facilities and we are focused on supporting our employees and their families. We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted," the company said on its website.

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