July 2006 – Widow testifies during lawsuit

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QC Times. Steven Martens. July 30, 2006.

Widow testifies during lawsuit

CLINTON, Iowa — Charlene Ryan told a Clinton County jury that one of the things she misses most about her husband, Bob, is talking with him.

He was a talkative man, she said.

She said she remembers well the words he said to her on April 15, 2003, when she rushed to his side after he was injured in an anhydrous ammonia spill at a River Valley Cooperative site in Calamus.

“He said, “Hi, Babe,’” she recalled. “He always called me ‘Babe.’ ”

Bob Ryan, 68, died 13 days after being injured when an anhydrous ammonia tank he had just filled ruptured, seriously injuring him and co-worker Nathan Nissen, now 27. Ryan was credited with pulling Nissen to a water tank that only had room for one person and submerging him. Nissen later recovered and is again working full time at River Valley.

The trial in the civil suit brought by the Ryan and Nissen families that began Monday in Clinton will continue next week, with Nissen and one of Ryan’s daughters, Chris McClimon, also expected to take the stand.

The families filed suit in 2004 against S/M Service Co., Heritage Trails Associates, Cenex Harvest States Cooperatives, Agriliance and CF Industries.

S/M Service Co., the previous owner of the tank, was dismissed from the case. Cenex, Agriliance and CF Industries have reached a $2.25 million settlement with the Ryan and Nissen families, but the families’ attorney, Donald Beattie, has said much of that money will go to reimburse money paid by worker’s compensation.

Heritage Trails, the company hired by River Valley to provide safety training to its employees, is continuing to contest the case.

In addition, Agriliance and CF Industries have become third-party plaintiffs, seeking compensation from a third-party defendant, Trinity Industries, the company that manufactured the tank. The former defendants are hoping to recover some of the money they paid for the settlement and made an agreement with the plaintiffs to share a portion of any money awarded to them by the jury. Heritage Trails also is a third-party plaintiff, but has not settled with the Ryan and Nissen families.

Charlene Ryan described her husband as a family man who was active in his community. After suffering from serious chemical burns on his skin and in his lungs, he could only communicate by writing while in the hospital, complaining that his “skin was on fire,” and asking about Nissen’s condition, she testified.

Also Friday, Tom Leiting, general manager of River Valley Cooperative, testified that River Valley has hired a private contractor to conduct interior testing of its anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks in an effort to comply with new directives from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The rules state that all nurse tanks that do not have a legible “data plate,” which contains information about the manufacture of the tank, must undergo internal testing.

Beattie claimed that internal testing would have revealed a flaw in the tank that ruptured, killing Bob Ryan and injuring Nissen.

Leiting said River Valley hopes to have all of its 500 to 600 tanks tested, depending on the availability of the contractor.

“We’re finding tanks through the testing process that don’t meet the standards of the testing,” he said.

Terry Jensen, chief of the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s Feed and Fertilizer Bureau, testified Friday that all nurse tanks undergo a visual exterior inspection every year. Jensen said three years after the accident, there still is no federal or state requirement that every anhydrous ammonia nurse tank undergo interior testing.