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Employee Injured in Hotel Blast Files Suit

05 Feb, 2024 Liz Carey

texas 6796059 640

Fort Worth, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – A hotel employee injured in an early January explosion has filed suit against their employer, saying management knew employees had concerns about a gas leak hours before the blast.

Karen Mayte Lopez Ontiveros, 28, filed suit against the Sandman Signature Hotel Feb. 1, joining nearly a dozen other hotel and restaurant employees who are taking action against the Sandman Hotel Group, its owner Northland Properties, Musume restaurant in the hotel’s lower level, its owners Rock Libations and SBBC Hospitium, and Atmos Energy.

Around 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 8, an explosion at the Sandman rocked downtown Fort Worth. Part of the building collapsed into the basement and scattered debris along Houston Street. Three employees were initially reported as injured, all of whom worked at Musume, an Asian restaurant inside the hotel. At the time, Josh Babb, one of the restaurant’s founders said on social media that the restaurant was closed at the time and that no customers were injured.

“All of us at Musume are devastated,” he said, noting that all of the injured were treated for burns, lacerations and concussions, and were in stable condition.

Lopez Ontiveros said she was working in the kitchen of the restaurant when the explosion happened. In her filing, she said she and others “began to smell strong wafts of ‘rotten eggs’ and experienced a burning sensation in their eyes.” The employees told management about the smells, suspecting a gas leak, the lawsuit said.

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According to the lawsuit, the employees were not told to evacuate. Lopez Ontiveros said she was concerned for her own safety, but decided to finish a final task before leaving for the day.

However, before she could leave, the lawsuit said, a blue flame “suddenly and without warning ignited” in the restaurant causing the hotel floor above to fall on her.

“She was violently thrown in the explosion, gravely injured, and trapped beneath the building,” a news release from the Kelley Law Firm said. The lawsuit says she is currently intubated and in a medically induced coma with a low chance of survival.

According to the lawsuit, Lopez Ontiveros was burned over almost a fourth of her body, as well as suffering six broken ribs, punctured lungs, kidney lacerations, a shattered right arm, blood clots in her legs and injuries to her upper back and lower extremities. She has allegedly undergone nine surgeries and five skin grafts, the lawsuit said, leaving her with doubts about whether she will survive long enough to “care for her growing children.” The lawsuit alleges that she will need additional surgeries.

The defendants, the lawsuit alleges, were negligent and failed to “adequately monitor, inspect, maintain and respond to a gas leak that had been ongoing for several hours,” at the hotel.

Lopez Ontiveros is seeking a jury trial and more than $177 million to cover her medical expenses, lost wages and damages.

The lawsuit also said Musume, Rock Libations and SBBC Hospitium had “exclusive control” over the determination to evacuate the restaurant, and acted negligently when they disregarded the employees’ concerns, imposing an “unreasonable degree of harm… to employees, customers and patrons.”

“Mrs. Lopez Ontiveros did what any honorable person would do in showing up on time, working hard, and doing all that she could to be good to her employer and the people they serve,” her attorney Kevin Kelley said in a press release. “To be rewarded with companies who lacked the care of giving her notice that her life could be in danger is unacceptable and they will pay for their actions to ensure this doesn’t happen to any other person in her situation.”

While the Fort Worth Fire Department said initially the explosion was caused by a natural gas leak, officials recently said natural gas company Atmos had found no indication its systems were involved in the explosion when it completed its assessment of the pipeline outside of the hotel. Fire officials said they remain confident that natural gas was involved, and would transition its investigation to the inside of the building.

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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