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$10,650,000 Settlement for Fatally Burned Worker and His Injured Co-worker

Case Synopsis:

The family of a maintenance worker and his co-worker will share in the recovery of a $10.65 million dollar settlement paid by four companies in an accident at an automotive battery company that left one man dead and another man burnt in both of his thigh areas. Of the settlement, $6.6 million will go to the family of the deceased worker while $4 million will go to the burnt production worker.

Located on the automotive battery manufacturer’s facility were two above ground storage tanks that each housed over 6000 gallons of pure sulfuric acid. Because a leveling gauge for one of the tanks had been broke for over a year before the accident, a practice developed whereby maintenance personnel would place an extension ladder up against the side of the 16-foot high sulfuric acid tank and then manually check the level of acid inside the tank by climbing up the ladder and looking down inside the tank.

On the morning of the accident, the maintenance worker had climbed up the ladder to take the measurement of acid and while in the process of climbing back down the ladder, he either slipped or misstepped resulting in him losing his balance and falling on the discharge line that was located at the bottom of the tank. The force of the maintenance worker’s fall broke a six-inch PVC pipe nipple that was attached to a green chemical hose resulting in him being sprayed with sulfuric acid. A co-worker who had been holding the ladder for the maintenance worker came to the rescue and was also sprayed by sulfuric acid.

The maintenance worker ultimately died from complications arising from his burn wounds.

The basis for the lawsuit filed by the family of the deceased maintenance worker and his co-worker was that their employer had hired a contractor to purchase and install a 16-foot, 6000-gallon sulfuric acid tank to replace a tank that had been previously leaking and that the new tank was installed improperly.

As was learned during litigation, the general contractor was hired by the workers’ employer to install the new tank did not have any prior experience either in selling or installing plastic molded tanks for sulfuric acid. Nor did the contractor have any experience with chemical companies that used these types of tanks. The general contractor then subcontracted the installation of the new tank and its discharge piping to a subcontractor.

It was determined that both the general contractor and its subcontractor had received a copy of the installation manual from the tank manufacturer. The installation manual required that all piping and flexible connections for the discharge line of the tank be independently supported.

In direct contradiction of the tank manufacturer’s installation directions, the new sulfuric acid tank and its discharge line were installed without any support for the discharge line.

The general contractor and its subcontractor claimed that the discharge line did have support by the way it was installed but just not precisely as recommended by the tank manufacturer. The general contractor and its subcontractor claimed that the issue of safeguarding the discharge line was the responsibility of plaintiff’s employer.

Also according to public records, the injured workers’ employer was fined by OSHA for numerous safety violations that contributed to and caused the accident. One citation was providing the injured workers with a damaged ladder in which one of the rungs were bent. The other violation included not providing its workers with any personal protective equipment and fall protection.

Lastly, the general contractor and its subcontractor claimed that the injured workers’ employer had known for more than a year prior to the accident that the leveling gauge allowed for remote ground level read out of the contents in the tank, was broke and inoperative.

The injured workers also sued the tank manufacturer claiming that the provision of a six-inch long PVC discharge pipe rendered the tank defective and unsafe in that it should have been stainless steel, which is much more durable and stronger than PVC piping. The maintenance worker suffered third degree burns over 50% of his body. He was placed in a drug-induced coma and died from complications relating to his burn wounds 37 days later.

The other injured worker suffered second and third degree burns to nearly 30% of his body primarily in the thigh areas. He underwent one skin graft procedure and was released to return to work five months after the accident.

Outcome:

The total settlement to the family of the burned worker who died from his wounds was $6,603,000.00 while the injured worker who returned back to work received $4,047,000.00. The combined settlement of $10,650,000.00 was one of the largest settlements ever in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The case was handled by Philadelphia products liability attorney,  Richard M. Jurewicz, Esquire of Galfand Berger. For more information on this case, please contact him at rjurewicz@galfandberger.com.