McGill contests wrongful death lawsuit

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

January 2, 2014

McGill Environmental Systems will “vigorously contest” a lawsuit filed in the death of a local man at the Smithfield Foods plant in Clinton in February 2012.

The widow of Brandon Taylor, 26, is suing North Carolina-based McGill for wrongful death. Taylor, a Smithfield Foods employee, was suffocated by toxic fumes while draining wastewater sludge into a McGill Environmental Systems tanker at Clinton’s Smithfield Packing plant shortly after midnight Feb. 18, 2012.

The lawsuit claims that McGill had a duty to warn individuals working on its tankers being loaded with wastewater containing hydrogen sulfide of the dangers of the toxic gas. Smithfield is not named in the lawsuit, filed Dec. 20 by Wallace and Graham of Salisbury on behalf of plaintiff Victoria Taylor, mother of Taylor’s two young sons.

Angela M. Allen of Ragsdale Liggett PLLC said in a statement Tuesday that her client, McGill, will contest the lawsuit and false allegations against the company.

“McGill Environmental Systems will vigorously contest a lawsuit that has been filed in connection with the tragic death of a Smithfield Foods employee at a Smithfield hog processing plant in Clinton in February 2012,” Allen stated. “When the facts come out, it will be clear that McGill and its employees performed their responsibilities in a proper and legal manner. McGill was not responsible for the death, and we believe the court will agree that McGill has no legal liability.”

Allen said the victim, despite media reports identifying him as a McGill employee, “was a Smithfield Foods employee.”

Investigators deemed Taylor’s death to be the result of inhalation of hydrogen sulfide gas.

“The wastewater contained high levels of poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas,” said Mona Lisa Wallace, founding partner of the Wallace and Graham law firm.

The lawsuit states that hydrogen sulfide gas, also known as “sewer gas,” can be found in hog farm waste and manure ponds and in the waste from slaughterhouses and food processing plants. She noted “many reports” of individuals being injured or dying as a result of exposure to the gas. It has a scent like rotten eggs, knocking out a person’s sense of smell quickly, leaving the victim unaware they are breathing in a toxic quantity, the lawsuit states.

McGill, based in New Hill, N.C., specializes in manufacturing premium compost products through the processing and recycling of non-hazardous, biodegradable by-products and residuals from municipal, industrial and agribusiness sources. It operates industrial-scale composting facilities in North Carolina, Virginia and Ireland.

McGill and Smithfield Packing have worked together for more than a decade.

As part of that partnership, McGill sent tanker-trailers to the Smithfield hog processing plants, including the Clinton plant, to pick up loads of wastewater sludge containing hydrogen sulfide and other toxic substances and gases. The waste was held in four giant overhead storage tanks at the Smithfield hog plant until tanker-trailers came to take it away.

According to the suit, on the night of his death Taylor climbed on top of a McGill tanker to drain wastewater sludge into it from one of the overhead storage tanks at the plant. After some time had passed, the McGill driver realized that something was wrong and came out of his cab and discovered Taylor had collapsed, overcome by the gas.

The suit contends that McGill knew the hog waste was hazardous and, on “one or more occasions” before Taylor died, other individuals were overcome by the gas and fell off the McGill tankers or were otherwise injured.

“McGill should not have allowed anyone to climb on top of its tankers and open the hatch without taking proper precautions. However, prior to the death, McGill never undertook any appropriate safety precautions to prevent death or serious injury to its employees or to others, including Mr. Taylor,” the suit alleges. “If McGill had undertaken appropriate precautions, Mr. Taylor would not have died.”

Allen said McGill will fight those claims — and its record of service.

“For more than 20 years, McGill has operated industrial-scale composting facilities. We have earned a reputation for sustained, reliable and professional service,” the statement read. “Safety has been, and will continue to be, a top priority for McGill. We will defend our record, our reputation and our performance in this matter in court.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at