Posts tagged with "dangerous checmicals"

Brief, Intensive Asbestos Exposure Results in $20 Million Award

A Miami man who spent four months working and living around asbestos received a $20 million award from a Florida jury in September.

Plaintiff Charles Garrison spent a summer remodeling his cousin’s attic. The agreement was that Garrison would receive free housing in exchange for the labor. What Garrison didn’t bargain for was the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which he acquired as a result of working around the hazardous substance.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Garrison was a student at the University of New Hampshire. Like many college students, he was looking to live on the cheap. In an effort to help out family, his cousin, who owned a nearby apartment complex, offered up his attic apartment. The two struck a deal that in exchange for free rent, Garrison would remodel the apartment.

For part of the renovation, Garrison used a joint compound that contained asbestos. Asbestos is a fire-retardant mineral that was frequently used in construction products prior to the 1980s. Asbestos was largely phased out when it became linked to a variety of respiratory diseases. The asbestos within Garrison’s joint compound was manufactured between 1974 and 1975 by a company called Union Carbide. According to Garrison and his attorney, Juan Bauta, Garrison did not see any warning labels on the joint compound’s container or any indication that the product contained asbestos.

Due to these few months spent around the hazardous substance, Garrison was diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma in 2008. He sued Union Carbide to recover compensatory damages, which is money to repay him for his actual losses, such as medical bills. The case went to trial, and the jury found Union Carbide liable for Garrison’s injuries.

The Changing Nature of Mesothelioma Litigation

A decade ago, the majority of mesothelioma cases were related to asbestos-laden pipe insulation that dated back to the early 20th century. Today’s claims reflect a new era of asbestos exposure, as evidenced by Garrison’s case.

“By 1964, it was known that asbestos causes major health problems, so many companies that had formerly used the substance in their products began winding down manufacturing,” says John Langdoc, a lead trial attorney at Baron & Budd. “But some companies, such as Union Carbide, began using asbestos in other products, such as joint compounds and drywall. So it’s a very different landscape of defendants.”

These construction products contain smaller amounts of asbestos than the pipe insulation that predates them. However, according to Langdoc, this doesn’t diminish the danger of the substance.

“People who were working with these asbestos-containing products from the 1970s and early 1980s usually have a longer latency period than those exposed in the 1940s and 1950s,” Langdoc says. “And it is this longer latency period that adds to the complexity of the case.”

This latency period, which is the amount of time it takes for an individual to develop symptoms of mesothelioma after exposure, can be as long as 80 years. Often individuals pass away from unrelated illnesses before the asbestos-related cancer becomes an issue.

“Mesothelioma is often contracted from asbestos exposure in an occupational setting,” Langdoc says. “With a long latency period, the sufferer is often already long retired by the time the disease shows itself. By this time, the company may have a different board of directors and different managers, and tracking down purchase orders and bills of sale can take a lot of investigating.”

The law takes this long latency period into account. The statute of limitations for mesothelioma cases begins on the date of diagnosis, not on the date of exposure.

Awards for Mesothelioma Claims Vary

Garrison’s $20 million award is not an uncommon outcome for mesothelioma claims. Those afflicted undergo extensive medical treatment and endure tremendous suffering.

“Mesothelioma is a horrible cancer,” Langdoc says. “It doesn’t create a ball. It spreads all along the lining of the lung, and it can metastasize and wrap around the heart or go up into the brain. Because it wraps around nerve endings, the patient is in constant pain. Eventually, lung capacity is diminished, and the patient suffocates.”

States vary on what a jury may consider when calculating compensatory damages. Common factors include medical bills, economic loss, and emotional suffering. Additionally, some states, including Florida, do not award mesothelioma sufferers punitive damages, which are monetary awards given to a plaintiff to punish the defendant for serious wrongdoing.

“There are a small minority of asbestos-cancer claims that are heard to verdict where punitive damages are considered and awarded,” Langdoc says. “And even when punitive damages are awarded, there is often a cap on the amount.”

By Keith Ecker

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com 

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Avoid Premise Liability: Safeguard Your Pool Before Summer

As a kid, I always looked forward to Memorial Day because it signaled the start of swimming pool season. Until we were about 10 years old, my brother and I took year-round swimming lessons, but we always looked forward to that first swim of the year in an outdoor pool.

Looking back, I realize that swimming lessons weren’t just intended to teach us a sport. My parents invested in swimming lessons because they realized that knowing how to swim could save our lives.

According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, each year more than 300 children under the age of 5 drown in pools. Another 2,000 kids are treated for submersion-related injuries. Swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas are fun, but they also pose a serious danger.

If you own a swimming pool, experts suggest that you have several types of protection, equipment, and safety procedures in place to prevent injuries and death.

Install and use the following protective measures:

  • Your pool should be entirely surrounded by a fence that’s at least 4 feet high. The fence should be a smooth construction to make it difficult for kids to go over, under, or through the barrier. Any gates should be self-latching and locked.
  • If doors from your home lead directly to the pool, install door alarms that sound when the door is opened. (A keypad can be used to temporarily disable the alarm if an adult wants to use the door.) Also install a deadbolt lock that requires a key to open the door, and don’t keep the key in the lock.
  • Consider a motorized pool cove that would be difficult for a young child to remove.
  • Install a pool alarm, which either floats on the surface or uses infrared beams below the surface to detect movement in the pool.
  • Keep floatation devices and poles close to the pool, but don’t rely on these to keep non-swimmers safe.
  • Always have a phone near the pool.

Remember that even the best protective equipment is worthless if it isn’t used correctly. Alarms should be tested regularly, and you should make sure that doors are closed and locked, and covers are on when the pool isn’t being used.

When the pool isn’t in use, also put away all pool toys that could tempt kids. If you have an above-ground pool, you should also remove the ladders and steps leading to the pool.

Adults and kids who are around water should also learn survival skills and practice good pool-safety practices:

  • As soon as your child can crawl, he or she should be taught water survival techniques.
  • Even children who know how to swim can drown. Regardless of age or swimming ability, don’t let children swim without supervision.
  • Anyone who is regularly supervising swimmers should know CPR and other first aid techniques.
  • Know that drownings can occur even when children are supervised. Adults who are supervising kids at a pool shouldn’t be distracted by phone calls, text messaging, personal conversations, or reading material.
  • If you or a neighbor have a pool and your child goes missing, the pool should be the first place you check. Time is of the essence when saving children who are submerged in water.
  • If people are swimming outdoors and it starts to thunder, get out of the pool and into a safe shelter. Stay out of the pool for at least 30 minutes after you last hear thunder.

Legal Risks

Swimming pools can be fun, but drowning is one of the leading causes of death among young children. If you have a pool, you have an obligation to take all of the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your family, your neighbors, and your guests–even uninvited guests. But you should also be prepared for the worst-case scenario: Accidents can happen, even if you have taken all of the necessary precautions. As a pool owner, you need to protect yourself if an accident occurs.

Purchase swimming pool insurance coverage. Your homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance or condo insurance usually will not cover you for pool-related accidents and lawsuits. You may also want to purchase a separate liability policy.

Check with your insurance agent to find out what safety and protective equipment is required by your policy. Also ask whether discounts are available if you install additional types of equipment, such as pool alarms.

Finally, before buying a home with a pool, installing a pool, or making major improvements to your pool, contact your local and state government to learn what laws in your area govern home swimming pools

By: Jennifer King

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com 

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Family Settles with Exterminator whose Poisons Killed their Children

Nathan and Brenda Toone suffered the unthinkable loss of two of their daughters to alleged pesticide poisoning within days after taking care of the seemingly routine home maintenance task of using an exterminator.

The Toones hired Bugman Pest and Lawn, Inc. to take care of voles, which had established themselves in the family’s lawn at their Layton, UT home. Bugman employee Cole Nocks buried poisonous Fumitoxin pellets, a phosphide-based rodent killer, in the yard. Within a day, Rebecca, age 4, and Rachel, 15 months, fell ill.

A carbon monoxide alarm went off in the family’s home on Friday, February 5, 2010. The fire department found only trace amounts of carbon monoxide and cleared the family to go inside. By Saturday, Rebecca’s symptoms worsened, she developed breathing problems, then cardiac arrest at a local hospital. Rachel was in critical condition in a children’s hospital by Monday night. Rachel passed away Tuesday, February 9, 2010.

Autopsy results showed the girls had lung damage caused by inhaling a dangerous substance with elevated phosphorus levels in their blood. A Hazmat team found dangerous levels of phosphine gas in the family’s home.

The Toones filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bugman and Nocks in March 2011, which ended with a settlement in November 2011. Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed, but included a stipulation order of dismissal with prejudice, meaning the family can’t file another lawsuit. The family declined to issue comments after the settlement was announced.

In a few short days, this family’s world was forever changed. The details revealed in the weeks and months after the girls’ deaths showed that pesticide pellets were buried in a pest burrow system within 15 feet of the family’s home, violating EPA rules.  Further, Bugman employees used Fumitoxin dozens of times but didn’t have a fumigant management plan.

The Toone family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bugman, Nocks, and others in March 2010, and sought damages for negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and abnormally dangerous activity. Mitch Jackson, a personal injury attorney, offered insights on cases such as the Toones’.

Damages for emotional loss may be limited. Jackson explains, “Non-economic damages in cases like this, depending on the evidence, are normally limited to a loss of the child’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support. General damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering are normally not allowed. For all practical purposes in the wrongful death cases that I’ve tried while representing surviving parents, I think the jurors look at these damages as basically being the same thing.”

There are several approaches a plaintiff can use to prove a case. A plaintiff can show negligence, meaning the defendant owed and violated a duty to the plaintiff that caused a loss or injury. Jackson points out a related concept, saying, “In civil cases, the injured parties may be able to use the violation of a law or regulation as “negligence per se,” the legal doctrine whereby an act is considered negligent because it violates a statute or regulation. The ability to make this argument shifts the plaintiff’s burden to only having to show that the defendant’s wrongful conduct was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and damages. Simply put, it’s makes proving your case easier.”

Finally, a claim based on abnormally dangerous activity rests on strict liability. Some activities are so dangerous that there’s no need to prove fault, and liability attaches when someone is harmed by those activities.

Many people ask about why a case might settle instead of following through with a trial. In this case, settlement details weren’t released, and the family didn’t offer a comment. Jackson commented, “While I believe in the American jury system and have a great deal of success trying cases, most experienced trial lawyers will tell you that you never know what a jury is going to do. So, a big advantage to a strong negotiated settlement is that the outcome is certain. There are no surprises (good or bad) and your clients are not put through the stress of trial.”

The criminal courts also answered the call for justice. First, Nocks was charged in state court with negligent homicide. Federal authorities took over the criminal case, and Bugman and Nocks pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a registered pesticide. This crime carries the same penalty possible for the state charge. The plea agreement recommended a six-month prison term and home confinement for Nocks. Bugman faces a fine and probation, barring the company from selling, using, or distributing pesticides for three years. Sentencing is set for December 20, 2011.

Can a related criminal case affect a plaintiff’s civil case? Jackson says, “Absolutely! In most states, the plaintiff in a civil wrongful death case can use a criminal felony conviction or regulatory violations to help establish liability in the civil case. Most civil lawyers will coordinate their efforts with the criminal prosecution team. Of course, a felony conviction in the criminal case or even the chance of a felony conviction can help move settlement discussion along in the civil case.”

In addition to bringing criminal charges in this case, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted new rules restricting Fumitoxin use in residences. Hopefully, the changes protect consumers who strive to keep their homes healthy and avoid further tragedies.

By Heather McGowan

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim from exposure to hazardous materials, a wrongful death claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

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