DANVERS — CAI Inc. is suing National Grid in Salem Superior Court for negligence, claiming the gas company and its predecessors were liable for failing to keep natural gas from seeping into its chemical plant and causing a massive explosion in Danversport three years ago.
CAI's five-page lawsuit seeks approximately $2 million in damages from loss of its building and business and the environmental cleanup associated with the 2:46 a.m. blast that rocked residents from their slumber the day before Thanksgiving.
CAI Inc., a family-owned company, manufactures inks at its Georgetown facility on Martel Way, in an industrial park next to Interstate 95. The company is run by President Vincent Sartorelli of Amesbury.
The explosion caused an estimated $30 million in damage or destruction of dozens of nearby homes, businesses, cars and boats at the nearby Liberty Marina in the port area of town. The blast injured 10 people, but no one was killed. About 70 families were displaced, some for months and years.
"Some or all of the defendants failed to prevent the escape of gas from the pipes, which resulted in large quantities of gas collecting in, under, and around the building of the plaintiffs, causing the explosion ..." the lawsuit says.
"We don't believe we have any responsibility in this matter," said Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for National Grid, which merged with KeySpan Energy Delivery in August 2007. She could not comment further, with litigation pending, and said attorneys had not yet had the opportunity to review the lawsuit.
CAI's attorney, Paul Needham, filed the lawsuit Monday for the company and the Sartorelli Realty LLC, which owns half the property at 126R Water St. The lawsuit came in just under the wire for the state's three-year statute of limitations. With the anniversary of the blast falling on a Sunday and the courts closed, the last day to file was Monday.
Needham said there would be more to CAI's case, but he could not say more yesterday.
"We wouldn't have filed it if we didn't have anything additional," Needham said.
While the lawsuit does not say how the gas got into its factory, it takes up residents' concerns about "smelling a strong odor of gas," and seeing gas company vehicles in the neighborhood in the days before the blast.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the federal agency that investigated the explosion, ruled out gas.
"There was no pathway into the building that had any credibility," said Daniel Horowitz, director of public affairs for the Chemical Safety Board.
Investigators pinned the cause on a steam valve inadvertently left open on an unsealed mix tank, which allowed flammable vapors to escape and fuel the blast. There was no gas service to the building, and investigators tracked down the source of several odors residents smelled the day before the blast.
CAI's own investigation into the blast used ground-penetrating radar to find used and abandoned pipes into the building, but said more study was needed.
"Just like the Chemical Safety Board's and the state fire marshal's office's investigations, we were not able to find sufficient evidence gas was related to that explosion that night," Beverly attorney Jan Schlichtmann said.
Schlichtmann and attorney Peter Lagorio recently filed suit against Ashland Inc., the company alleged to have supplied chemicals to the CAI/Arnel facility the day before the blast.