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Sixth wrongful death case filed after Foundation Food Group nitrogen leak
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Foundation Food Group at the Memorial Drive entrance. - photo by Scott Rogers

A sixth wrongful death lawsuit was filed Monday, March 1, against a chemical company more than a month after the fatal Foundation Food Group liquid nitrogen leak in Gainesville.

The lawsuit concerned Nelly Gisel Perez-Rafael, 28, of Gainesville, who was one of the six people who died following the leak at the Memorial Park Drive poultry processing plant. Lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of the other five people killed.

The complaint was filed in Gwinnett County State Court on behalf of Perez-Rafael’s young daughter, Ximena Sophia Vera. Perez-Rafael’s sister, Alma Perez, is serving as the girl’s representative because she is a minor.

“From what we know, this woman was very family-oriented. She was a good caretaker of her child,” attorney Richard Taylor said. “She was a hard worker, and they’ve lost a mother and a sister. She’s irreplaceable.”

Like the others, the case was filed against Messer Gas LLC, Messer North America and a Braselton man who worked for Messer. It was filed in Gwinnett because Messer has a registered agent in that county.

Messer spokeswoman Amy Ficon did not immediately respond to request for comment on the latest lawsuit but previously told The Times that the company was aware of the others, the latest of which makes seven. Five of the other lawsuits are wrongful death cases and one is a personal injury case.

“As a company that values safety and reliability for our customers and our communities, we take these allegations seriously,” Ficon told The Times. “As investigations are still ongoing, the facts are not fully known, and Messer will not speculate on the cause of the incident. Messer continues to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities, and we are committed to understanding what happened, learning from the investigation findings, and doing our part to help prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

The lawsuit concerns a liquid nitrogen system installed by Messer in December at the processing plant.

“Immediately after its installation, the system began to malfunction, leaving it susceptible

to leaking nitrogen,” according to the lawsuit. “Between the time of installation through January 28, 2021, the system leaked nitrogen intermittently.”

The lawsuit alleged that the nitrogen exposure caused Perez-Rafael “extreme pain and suffering,” who then  “became aware of her impending death and then died of asphyxiation.”

The lawsuit is seeking a judgment against the defendants to “recover the full value of the life of the deceased, punitive damages and the costs of litigation.”

Taylor said there would likely be cooperation among the fellow attorneys working on these wrongful death lawsuits, as the discovery and relevant witnesses will be the same across these cases.

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