Wrongful-Death Suit

Stockton woman sued over death of husband

By Brenda Kirby
Staff Reporter

Bay Minette - A Stockton woman has settled her lawsuit against a company she blamed for the 2003 death of her husband, but a judge allowed the terms to remain confidential.

Laura Miller filed the lawsuit in February against the Laurel, Miss.-based G.B. "Boots" Smith Corp. on behalf of her late husband's estate. The suit contended that the firm's negligence caused a flash fire in April 2003 that resulted a month later in the death of her husband, James Russell "Rusty" Miller.

Judges normally review the terms of lawsuit settlements in public hearings when they affect minor children; Miller had two. But Baldwin County Circuit Judge J. Lang Floyd agreed to attorneys' requests to close the court for the settlement hearing and seal the terms of the agreement.

The judge approved the settlement and formally dismissed the case late last month.

Pascal Bruijn, a lawyer appointed to review the settlement on behalf of one of the children, said the confidentiality agreement prevented him from discussing details.

"No amount of money will bring their father back, but all parties worked diligently to reach a good settlement considering the circumstances," he said.

Thomas Spires, an attorney who represented the defendants, said, "I can't comment on it at all, because of the confidentiality agreement. That's just the safer practice."

The plaintiff's lawyer, George "Skip" Finkbohner, also declined to comment.

Miller, 44, was working on an oil well in Atmore for Palmer Petroleum at the time of the accident on April 11, 2003.

According to the lawsuit, vapors and gases siphoned out of the well by a vacuum truck operated by G.B. "Boots" Smith ignited, causing the fatal fire.

One of the company's employees, William Arnold Bell, also was named in the suit.

The lawsuit contended that G.B. "Boots" Smith failed to properly maintain the vacuum truck and accused the firm of failing to control the hazardous and combustible vapors.

The suit alleged that the vacuum truck and its components "were unreasonably dangerous, unsafe and/or unfit" and that the defendants knew or should have known that to be the case.

In addition, the complaint alleged that the firm was negligent in its "hiring, retention, training and supervision" of Bell and that it failed to properly monitor his work.

The defendants tried unsuccessfully to get the case moved from Baldwin County to Monroe County, where the accident occurred. But a Baldwin County Circuit Court judge ruled that Baldwin was the appropriate venue.

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