On February 9, 2010 a Broome County, New York jury awarded a verdict totaling $2,511,500 to a union plumber/pipefitter injured while working as a contractor at Amrex Chemical Company, Inc. at its East Frederick Street facility in October of 2005. The worker and his wife were represented in the case by Stephen G. Schwarz, managing partner at Faraci Lange, LLP of Rochester, New York.
The plaintiff was called in to work on the sprinkler system in the basement of the facility and had been told at a prior visit by representatives of defendant Amrex that he did not require any respiratory protection such as a respirator. Workers on the floor above were apparently cleaning out 55 gallon drums that had been used for chemical storage and the residue of the chemicals leaked through the floor into the area where the plaintiff was working. As the liquid leaked into the basement two incompatible chemicals, a strong acid and sodium hypochlorite, mixed together creating a cloud of chlorine gas that the plaintiff inhaled.
The plaintiff immediately experienced shortness of breath, coughing and gagging and made his way up to the floor above where he observed a puddle of liquid on the floor above where he had been working. One of the workers remarked to him at that point not to stand in the puddle because “it will eat your boots off.” He was not offered any assistance by the Amrex representative who did nothing but document the incident. He immediately drove himself to the doctor where burns were noted on his chest where the chemical mixture had splattered, and he was also diagnosed with damage to his throat and airways from inhalation of the gas. Over the next few months his breathing difficulties worsened to the point that he could no longer perform his usual work which required heavy exertion. At that point he started a residential plumbing and heating business where he could work at his own pace for less hours and do lighter-duty plumbing.
Testifying on behalf of the plaintiff were his treating pulmonologist, Dr. Richard Baron, an expert in industrial and pulmonary medicine, Dr. Mark Utell from the University of Rochester Medical Center, as well as a toxicologist, Dr. William Sawyer and an environmental chemist, Dr. John Hassett of the S.U.N.Y. College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry in Syracuse. Both Dr. Baron and Dr. Utell testified that the plaintiff’s breathing had steadily deteriorated over the past four years to the point it was only 30% of normal. They both viewed his prognosis as guarded and that any further deterioration would likely make him short of breath even at rest. Dr. Sawyer testified about the known dangers of chlorine gas and the medical literature reports of injuries occurring from chlorine gas inhalation similar to the one the plaintiff suffered. Dr. Hassett calculated the amounts of acid and sodium hypochlorite required to produce toxic levels of chlorine gas. His calculations revealed that even a teaspoon of each when mixed together was sufficient to create dangerous levels of chlorine, especially in an unventilated environment like the basement where the plaintiff was exposed.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $140,000 for past pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. They also awarded him $11,150 in past medical expenses and $100,000 in future medical expenses. Finally, the jury awarded $1,260,000 in future lost wages over the next 21 years.