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Stamford, Conn.-based Tosco Corporation will pay $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who suffered psychiatric injury in the February 1999 fire at its Avon refinery in Martinez, Calif., that killed four men. Peter Hinton, a partner with Walnut Creek, Calif.’s Hinton & Alfert, brought the action alleging his client, Chip Simoni, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder following the accident. With this settlement, Tosco has agreed to pay a total of $25 million in lawsuits stemming from the accident. Simoni was an iron worker foreman assigned to the ground crew working below the refinery’s crude processing tower when it ignited. He witnessed the explosion and suffered minor burns. “Fire and explosion can have a profound effect on people’s lives,” said Hinton, whose firm handled the case along with lawyers from Walnut Creek’s Appel & Appel. “You witness something that’s a highly unusual life-altering event.” Hinton said his client experienced flashbacks from the accident; his doctors ultimately recommended that he find other work. Tosco spokesman Jeff Lyon said the settlement “helps put this incident behind us and allows us to continue with our focus on our improved safety performance and safety culture.” Tosco sold the Avon refinery in July to Ultramar Diamond Shamrock Corp. of San Antonio, Texas. Simoni’s case was one of four; the other three were brought by the families of three victims of the fire. They were set for trial Sept. 18. Tosco agreed in May to pay $21 million to settle the three wrongful death suits. But Simoni’s case, the only one alleging psychiatric injury, was set apart. Even now that the four lawsuits — filed by contract workers at the refinery at the time of the accident — have settled, Tosco still faces two additional suits stemming from the explosion. Though state workers’ compensation law bars employees from suing their employers, J. Gary Gwilliam of Oakland’s Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer, is pursuing legal action on behalf of two Tosco employees — one killed and one permanently injured in the fire. Hinton said the string of suits stems from what he calls Tosco’s disregard for maintenance and safety at its Avon refinery. He alleges that while in 1997 the refinery conducted extensive overhaul of corroded portions of the tower where the accident occurred, maintenance officials overlooked a corroded line where the highly volatile naphtha chemical flowed.

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