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EMPLOYER LIABILITY Particleboard explosion yields $21M settlement Smethport, Pa. (AP)-The families of three men killed and five people injured in an explosion at a particleboard plant have settled their lawsuits against several defendants for $21 million. On Feb. 13, 2001, sparks from a cutting torch ignited sawdust at the Temple-Inland Forest Products Corp. plant in Mount Jewett. Gregg Engelken, 33, Roger Smith, 33, and Jim Covert, 39, died of injuries, and seven other workers were hospitalized. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration blamed Temple-Inland for the fire and fined the company $248,000 for various safety violations, including failing to prevent excessive accumulations of wood dust. The victims or their families filed lawsuits against various subcontractors that were working at the plant, or whose safety equipment was used there. Temple-Inland closed the plant in April 2003, idling some 120 workers, citing weak market conditions. EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS Supermarkets settle with janitors for $22.4 million Los Angeles (AP)-Three supermarket chains agreed to pay $22.4 million to settle a class action by janitors who alleged that they were illegally classified as subcontractors and underpaid at hundreds of Southern California stores. The payment will be shared among at least 2,100 janitors who worked at Albertsons Inc., Ralphs Grocery Co. and Safeway Inc.’s Vons supermarkets between 1994 and 2001. They will receive from about $4,500 to $9,300, depending on where they worked and for how long. The janitors worked for a national contracting firm, Building One Service Solutions, which used more than 200 subcontractors. The subcontractors said that the workers were independent contractors, although they worked on a schedule and didn’t own their equipment. Building One has since filed for bankruptcy protection. NEGLIGENCE Woman hurt in train crash awarded $8.9M Santa Ana, Calif. (AP)-A jury ordered Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway to pay $8.9 million to a woman who was injured in a deadly Orange County train crash in 2002 that killed three people. Pamela Macek, 53, of Riverside, Calif., had sued the railway company for injuries she sustained after one of Burlington’s trains struck a Metrolink commuter train in which she was riding. Three people were killed and 162 were injured when a 167-car Burlington Northern & Santa Fe freight train slammed head-on into a crowded Metrolink commuter train from Riverside County on April 23, 2002, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles. REGULATORY ACTION Price manipulation claims settled for $12.5M Atlanta (AP)-A subsidiary of bankrupt energy supplier Mirant Corp. has agreed to pay $12.5 million to settle government claims that it had tried to manipulate the price of natural gas by giving false information to trade publications. In its agreement with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Mirant has given the agency a claim in the bankruptcy case for the amount of the penalty. The claim will be subordinate to those of unsecured creditors, but ahead of equity holders. The CFTC says that from January 2000 to December 2001, Mirant’s trading and risk management unit, Mirant Americas Energy Marketing, gave false and misleading information about its natural gas transactions in an attempt to manipulate the price of natural gas. SEXUAL ABUSE Roman Catholic diocese settles suit for $100M Los Angeles (AP)-A record-breaking, $100 million clergy sex abuse settlement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and 87 plaintiffs brought some relief to long-suffering families. It wasn’t clear how much of the settlement insurers would pay and how much the diocese would provide, but church officials said the deal would not bankrupt the diocese or require the closure of any of its 55 parishes. The Diocese of Orange’s financial statements indicate that it had a $171 million investment portfolio and $23.4 million in cash reserves at the end of the 2003 fiscal year. WRONGFUL DEATH Three Islamic charities ordered to pay $156M Chicago (AP)-Three Islamic charities and a suspected fund-raiser for the Palestinian militant group Hamas have been ordered to pay $156 million to the parents of an American teenager killed by terrorists outside Jerusalem. A federal jury deliberated for one day before awarding $52 million in damages to the parents of David Boim, who was shot at a bus stop eight years ago. U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys then tripled the damages. But it is uncertain how much the family can collect because some of the defendants’ assets have been frozen by the government. Before the trial, Keys found three groups liable in the death: the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Islamic Association for Palestine and suspected Hamas fund-raiser Mohammed Salah.

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