John Douglas Rayburn says a standpipe full of sulfuric acid at a Linetec plant in Wausau, Wisconsin, broke, spraying him and burning his skin. Apogee officials argue, however, that they are not at fault for his injuries.

A court case between an Illinois man injured by sulfuric acid at a Linetec plant in Wausau, Wisconsin, took a new turn. Apogee Wausau Group Inc. filed a third-party complaint against the injured man, alleging he ignored obvious safety hazards.

John Douglas Rayburn filed the original lawsuit against Apogee in late 2023. He was tasked with determining the cause and origin of a Sept. 16, 2020, fire at Linetec’s architectural metal finishing plant in Wausau. The fire burned a small portion of the facility and melted an acid tank that contained sulfuric acid.

According to court documents, Rayburn and an associate arrived at Linetec’s facility on Sept. 21, 2020, to conduct post-fire interviews and perform inspections to determine the cause of the fire.

In the lead-up to the inspections, Rayburn claims he had inquired about personal protective equipment to provide protection from certain chemicals, such as sulfuric acid. He states in court documents that Linetec employees told him that protective equipment was unnecessary to inspect the damaged property and that all valves controlling pipes containing chemicals were shut off.

Despite the assurances, Rayburn says a standpipe full of sulfuric acid broke, spraying him and burning his skin. The incident resulted in Rayburn suffering “severe, disfiguring and permanent physical, mental and emotional injuries leading to embarrassment, pain, and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium and enjoyment of relationships, past medical bills and the need for continued future care.”

Apogee officials argue, however, that they are not at fault for Rayburn’s injuries. They claim that Rayburn, the president and owner of Rayburn Fire Scene Investigations Inc., is at fault.

According to Rayburn’s allegations, Linetec “made plant conditions safe for the investigators by discharging all sulfuric acid from its plant, including its machines and associated piping, and all chemical hazards were removed from the plant post-fire.”

Apogee’s complaint argues that Rayburn was aware of the dangers caused by the fire but negligently and carelessly inspected the affected areas anyway. He was also offered protective clothing, which he refused. In an effort to get close-up photos of the melted chemical tank, officials claim he “unnecessarily proceeded to climb over obviously burned material to reach the underside of the melted chemical tank.”

Rayburn was subsequently burned when sulfuric acid from a standpipe touched him. Apogee officials say, unbeknownst to Linetec, a residual amount of acid was left over after the pipe’s valves were shut off.

They argue that Rayburn was negligent in his actions because he failed to adhere to warnings, ignored obvious safety hazards, carelessly inspected areas and failed to abide by Linetic’s protocols and his own company’s safety procedures.

Officials say that if Apogee is found liable for Rayburn’s injuries, “Rayburn Fire [should be] responsible for indemnifying and holding Apogee harmless due to the negligent actions taken by Rayburn Fire in performing its fire inspection duties, which far outweighs any potential negligence on behalf of Apogee.”

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