Missouri Jury Awards Employee $28 Million After Exposure to Contaminants in the Air Caused Illness

A jury in Laclede County ordered a Missouri company to pay $28 million to their employee for lung damage. Philip Berger, who is 56, is to receive the award because of damage his lungs sustained while he worked at a compressor plant in the state. The lawsuit stated that breathing in contaminants from a chemical used in the firm Berger worked at led to the inflammation in his lungs. The chemical was used to cool cutting tools in Copeland Scroll Compressors. The firm, owned by Emerson Climate Technologies of Ferguson, plans to appeal the verdict.

Kenneth McClain, the lawyer representing the Plaintiff in this case, said that a failing ventilator caused a vapor cloud to fill Berger’s working area, which resulted in him coughing severely. Berger was subsequently diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which was caused by his exposure to the mold and bacteria that was found in the fluid. This disease results in the inflammation of the lungs after natural material is inhaled as fine dust. The dust causes air sacs within the lungs to become inflamed and potentially fill with fluid. According to the American Lung Association there is neither a cure nor effective treatment. The disease has flu-like symptoms that appear within hours of breathing in contaminants including chills, fever and shortness of breath. These symptoms can last for half a day or over a week. Someone that suffers from hypersensitivity pneumonitis could feel completely normal between attacks. Repeated exposure to the dust can cause repeated flare-ups, and cause the lung to develop scar tissue. If scar tissue builds up, it could cause irregular breathing.

One lawyer for Copeland, Joseph Orlet, told news outlets via email that Emerson is a “very safe work environment,” with management that adheres to chemical safety standards. He said, “Despite Mr. Berger’s claim that he had suffered permanent lung damage, he continued to work for Copeland until the trial with no change in duties…This included strenuous activity and 200 to 300 hours of overtime every year. Also, he rode his bicycle two miles each way to and from work three times a week, spent the last four years as a drummer in a rock band and personally remodeled his house last month. None of this seems consistent with the disability he claimed.”

A chest X-Ray

National Transportation Safety Board Revamping Transit Worker Safety Regulations in Wake of Transit Worker Fatalities
OSHA Contemplating Changes to Workplace Safety Regulations