WASHINGTON — In the first lawsuit growing out of the Oklahoma City bombing, four survivors of the April 19 explosion are seeking damages from a Dallas-based chemical company that they allege made the ammonium nitrate used in the attack.
The suit, which seeks at least $50,000 per person in compensation plus unspecified punitive damages, was filed in federal court in Oklahoma City by Los Angeles attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who is representing O.J. Simpson in his murder trial, and a prominent Oklahoma City trial lawyer.
"It has been widely known in the industry which produces ammonium nitrate for fertilizer" that it "is easily made into a highly volatile explosive" used by terrorists and car bombers, the suit declares. The company, ICI Explosives Inc., "was negligent by failing to include an additive to reduce the explosive potential of the fertilizer grade of ammonium nitrate," the suit contends. Therefore, the Texas company should be liable for the injuries, psychological as well as physical, of all those injured in the bombing that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the suit maintains.
In response, the company said that it would "vigorously contest" the suit and said it has seen no evidence that its chemicals were used in the explosive. "We deeply resent the attempt to implicate a responsible company in this terrible tragedy," the company said in a statement.
The damage suit against the Texas chemical company could be the first of many. It also comes amid a national debate over the civil justice system.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican-controlled House and Senate have attacked the "litigation explosion" and voted to put limits on punitive damages in product liability cases. President Clinton has threatened to veto the legislation on the grounds that it protects wrongdoers, including "drunk drivers, rapists and terrorists."
Typically, however, civil damage suits ignore the individual who is most responsible for an injury or death, simply because the person has little or no money to pay a claim. Trial lawyers say they do not expect to see damage suits against Timothy J. McVeigh or Terry L. Nichols, who face charges in the attack.
Tad Sherwood, president-elect of the Oklahoma Trial Lawyers Assn., and other trial lawyers said they expect other suits against the chemical companies and retailers whose products may have been involved in the bombing. Several attorneys said they anticipate a damage suit against Ryder Trucks, which owned the rental vehicle used in the bombing.