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Sun Jan 13, 2019, 08:53 AM

The Great Boston Molasses Flood: why the strange disaster matters today

Source: The Guardian

The Great Boston Molasses Flood: why the strange disaster matters today

An obscure accident led to the first class action lawsuit against a major company, paving the way for modern regulation

Sarah Betancourt in Boston
Sun 13 Jan 2019 08.00 GMT

-snip-

At around 1pm on 15 January 1919, a 50ft-tall steel holding tank on Commercial Street in Bostonís North End ruptured, sending 2.3m gallons of molasses pouring into the neighborhood.

Owned by the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, the molasses had been brought to the city from the Caribbean, then piped from the harbor to the vat through 220ft of heated piping. The tank was built in 1915 to accommodate increased wartime demand. But from its inception, it leaked.

On 13 January, it had been filled almost to capacity. Two days later, parts of the metal tank ripped though trusses of the elevated train track, 20ft below. Horses and people were swept away.

-snip-

A class action lawsuit arose from the flood, Dorr v United States Industrial Alcohol Company, with 119 plaintiffs including families of victims and injured parties. They argued that the tank was too thin and poorly built. The company argued that Italian anarchist groups blew up the tank.

The investigation lasted more than five years, with over a thousand witnesses testifying. In April 1925, a state auditor ruled that companyís negligence led to structural failure of the tank. Victims and their families were granted $628,000 in damages.

The first class action lawsuit against a major corporation, Dorr paved the way for modern regulation.

-snip-


Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/13/the-great-boston-molasses-flood-why-it-matters-modern-regulation


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