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Explosion or Electrocution Cases

Chemical Explosion Burns Face and Eye of Plumber

In September, 2002, a 52-year-old plumber suffered traumatic chemical burns to his left eye and face, which resulted in hyper-pigmentation and visual impairment. He was attempting to clean a drain with chemicals manufactured and distributed by the defendants. The chemicals reacted to materials in the drain, which created an explosion.

The plaintiff contended that the defendants negligently manufactured and distributed their chemicals and that the chemicals were unsafe for their intended use and purpose. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendants negligently allowed a high amount of sodium hydroxide to remain in the chemical, which caused the explosion, and that they failed to provide an appropriate measuring device to ensure that a proper quantity was used.

Defendants denied liability and argued that plaintiff was comparatively negligent, that he failed to wear proper safety gear, and that the diminution of sodium hydroxide would have reduced the chemicals potency. The plaintiff’s spouse filed a claim for loss of services and received an award of $75,000. The total award to the plaintiff was $329,523.

Employee Electrocuted OSHA Violations at Job Site but No Recovery for Family

In the fall of 2001, decedent, 38, was electrocuted during the course of his employment for defendant. Defendant, located in Neptune, NJ, is an electronics manufacturer of low voltage and high voltage power supplies that are used for military, private and commercial applications. In the three years before his death, Plaintiff worked in the ‘high voltage‘ area of the company. At the time of his death, Plaintiff’s job title was ‘tester,‘ which entailed testing the newly-manufactured high voltage power supplies to ensure that they were operating properly for their intended use. To test a power supply, the testers would have to connect the leads from the power supply to a large electronic ‘load,‘ which acts as a simulator for the expected conditions that the power supply will be subjected to in the field.

On the day of the accident, a problem arose with erratic firing from the load, causing Plaintiff to trouble-shoot both the power supply and the load. Plaintiff bent down and reached into the load and inadvertently touched the thyratron anode while his leg was touching the metal door, thus creating a two-point contact. Plaintiff was electrocuted immediately. Although a faint pulse was detected by the EMS personnel, Plaintiff was pronounced dead about an hour later at Jersey Shore Medical Center.
OSHA investigated the death and cited Defendant for a serious violation of the OSHA code, finding that Defendant had no safety training in place, had no ‘lock-out, tag-out‘ procedures in place for the high voltage equipment, had no protective gloves, boots, or mats and needed more safety devices on the subject load. Defendant did not contest the OSHA citation.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer argued that Defendant did not properly train the decedent to work on high voltage equipment and failed to take other safety precautions in the department. The plaintiff’s argued that not only had Plaintiff never passed a written electronics test as was required for employees but that Defendant also had no formal high voltage training for any of its employees; had no written safety manuals for high voltage equipment; and had no formal classroom training.

Plaintiffs called two liability experts, both of whom testified about the lack of safety training and manuals at Defendants facility; at least three prior accidents involving shocks with different employees that resulted in injuries; the decedent’s failing of two written tests; the dangerous condition of the equipment; the lack of safety gloves, boots and mats; and the OSHA violations. Both experts testified that Defendant knew that its actions were substantially certain to cause serious injury or death to one of its employees. Plaintiff’s experts opined that plaintiff had properly shut off the power to the power supply, but that the residual volts in the load’s capacitor killed him.

Defendant asserted comparative negligence against plaintiff, arguing that the accident was caused by plaintiff’s own negligence. The defense established that the decedent made a tragic mistake and did not follow the proper procedures before working inside the load cabinet. The proper procedure was to first turn the power off on the power supply, then look at the digital read-out to see if there is any residual energy in the load’s capacitors. If the read-out shows any amount of voltage, then a switch must be turned to discharge that voltage so that the read-out says zero. Because of the significant amount of burning on the decedent’s hand, Defendant’s chief technologist who designed this power supply theorized that the decedent forgot to shut the power off on the power supply before he started working. He rebutted plaintiff’s experts’ cause of death by saying the load’s capacitors did not have enough voltage to kill plaintiff or cause that much skin burning. He said the power had to be on, thus providing 12,000 volts of energy per second.

The Plaintiff’s economic expert testified that the children would have received $374,212 in economic support. This figure was only calculated up to the point the children turned 18. The children also sought damages for loss of guidance, counsel and support.

The case was tried in Ocean County Superior Court, and the jury found that defendant did not know that its actions were substantially certain to cause serious injury or death. Due to statute of limitations issues the estate’s claims and wife’s claims were dismissed, and the decedent’s family recovered nothing.

Boy Scout Killed by Lightning Strike, Boy Scouts of America Sued

In August 2002, the decedent, a Boy Scout from Clifton, New Jersey, was on a Boy Scout retreat in the Pocono Mountains. That evening the leaders dismissed him and 350 others from a dining hall, ordering them to return to their tents. While decedent sat under a tarp by a picnic table, lightning struck a tent pole about 10 feet away. He was electrocuted, went into cardiac arrest and died. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that decedent was likely alive for 10 to 20 minutes following the electrocution.

The decedent’s estate sued The Boy Scouts of America, Freeport, Ill., and the Cradle of Liberty Council, Philadelphia, which is a subdivision of Boy Scouts of America, for wrongful death, seeking an unspecified amount for survival damages and for decedent’s death. Decedent’s family also sought an unspecified amount for punitive damages, claiming the defendants intentionally attempted to suppress its own negligence following the death.

Lawyers for the plaintiff argued that the defendants negligently ordered the Scouts to their outdoor tents despite the fact that numerous warnings had been made regarding lightning. They further argued that the National Weather Channel repeatedly warned throughout the afternoon of severe weather in the area. The plaintiffs’ counsel also argued that the defendants attempted to cover up their wrongdoing, pointing out that all internal investigations ignored what occurred prior to the incident and only explored what happened following the electrocution. The estate’s attorney claimed that decedent’s parents were unaware of what happened before his death until two years afterwards, when a Scout employee contacted them. The employee told them that he had a portable radio and warned camp officials to keep the children in the dining hall due to impending lightning.

The Cradle of Liberty Council claimed that the officials made a collective decision that the storm had passed and never anticipated additional lightning to strike. The defense also challenged the employee and why he returned to the campsite if he felt threatened by the weather warnings. The defense also denied covering up any wrongdoing, arguing that routine investigative procedures had been conducted.

The Boy Scouts of America also denied liability, arguing that local councils create specific plans for each situation, which is out of the control of the parent organization.

The defense did not challenge compensatory damages but argued that the punitive damages were baseless, contending that all appropriate actions and responses to the incident were taken. After a week of trial in the Passaic County Superior Court, the defendants settled for a confidential amount.

Explosion Injures Refrigeration Mechanic and Leads to Claim under the Law Against Discrimination

In 1996, Plaintiff, 49, a refrigeration mechanic, began working for a grocer located in Keene, N.H. During the years between 1997 and 2001, Plaintiff told his supervisors repeatedly that the company was violating the government’s Clean Air Act due to refrigerant leakage at the South Brunswick and Woodbridge distribution facilities where he worked. His superiors began harassing him soon after complaining, forcing him to file a written grievance and seek a request for transfer in late 2001, which they tried to prevent. Later, with the help from his union, he was transferred to the Woodbridge facility, but was demoted and eventually terminated on January 31, 2002, after a refrigeration system that he was servicing exploded, causing him injuries.

As a result of the explosion Plaintiff suffered head injuries, post-concussion syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. He received and continues to receive extensive psychological counseling and prescribed medications. He filed for workers compensation, which is a pending case while medical treatment continues.

Plaintiff sued the grocer and his employers individually for retaliatory termination and for handicap discrimination. Plaintiff claimed that after complaining of environmental violations he was harassed. He also claimed that management used the 2002 explosion incident as a pretext to terminate him for complaining of violations, for seeking workers compensation and for suffering injuries. Plaintiff counsel contended that the explosion was caused by a mechanical problem in the system, which leaked refrigerant and caused the explosion.

Plaintiff sought past lost wages of $188,000 and future lost wages of $752,000. At the time of termination, he was making about $50,000 annually. He also sought an unspecified amount for past and future pain and suffering and emotional distress. Plaintiff also asked for an award of punitive damages.

The Ocean County jury awarded Plaintiff $1,215,000, which broke down as $188,000 for past lost wages, $752,000 for future lost wages and $275,000 for past and future pain and suffering and for emotional distress.

Couple Sues Landlord When Gas Leak from Old Stove Leads to Explosion

In February 2002, plaintiffs, (a 42-year-old painter and his girlfriend), were at her residence in a two-family rental property in Red Bank owned by defendant.

Plaintiff attempted to relight the pilot light on the kitchen’s gas stove. There was an immediate and violent explosion that engulfed the second floor and started a gas-fed fire.

Plaintiff suffered third degree burns over 50% of his body, including his chest, arms and back. He was airlifted to St. Barnabas, where he spent a significant period of time in a hyperbolic chamber and underwent skin grafts over most of his body. Plaintiff also suffered breathing difficulties attributable to the high temperatures, and was treated through the use of inhalers. The other plaintiff (girlfriend) had third degree burns over nearly 20% of her body.

Plaintiffs sued the defendant property owner and New Jersey Natural Gas for negligence, claiming that the stove had been installed and maintained in a faulty manner. Their expert was prepared to testify that the explosion was consistent with a loose gas line. Further, plaintiff’s roommate had complained of a gas smell to defendant almost a year before the accident. The stove was inspected by a New Jersey Natural Gas service representative who informed defendant that he didn’t smell gas, but noted that the stove was old and needed to be replaced.

The property owner claimed that any problems with the line were accidentally or purposefully caused by the plaintiffs. New Jersey Natural Gas claimed that it never touched or manipulated the lines in any way, and were eventually dismissed from the case by the plaintiffs.

Plaintiff sought approximately $400,000 in medical expenses, plus pain and suffering. Plaintiff’s girlfriend sought approximately the same amount in medical expenses plus pain and suffering.

The plaintiffs accepted a settlement from the property owner’s insurer for $300,000. The settlement paid $149,000 to each plaintiff, while the remaining $2,000 was paid to State Farm on a subrogation claim.

Negligently Installed Towel Rack Causes Fatal Fire in Nursing Home

One week before Christmas in 1999, an elderly retired woman was at her nursing home in Middlesex County, taking a bath. A towel hanging on a towel rack caught fire due to it’s placement above a heater. The woman was fatally burned, although she lived for 20 days after the fire.

The woman’s daughter filed suit against the management company of the property, claiming that the installation of the towel rack over the heater constituted negligence and led to the wrongful death of the decedent. The defendant denied liability and claimed that the installation conformed to the applicable building codes and safety standards. The case settled prior to trial in the amount of $750,000.

Engine Explosion Causes Plane Crash, Cause of Failure Disputed

In April of 2000, three people were passengers in a small single engine plane traveling from North Carolina to New Jersey. There was an explosion involving the plane’s engine, causing it to crash in Virginia. All three passengers and the pilot were seriously injured. Plaintiff #1 was paralyzed from the chest down, plaintiff#2 suffered a broken spine and ankle, plaintiff#3 also suffered a fractured ankle, and the pilot suffered a broken neck, back and leg.

The three passengers and the pilot sued the manufacturer of the engine, as well as the company that maintained it, and the company that inspected it. The passengers also made a separate claim against the pilot. All claims sounded in product’s liability and negligence.

The parties differed on what caused the engine to explode, some said it was an issue with the crankshaft, others claimed it was a problem with the exhaust stack. Evidence was put forth showing that the manufacturer had recalled these engines for a crankshaft defect previously, and that the repairs were done improperly. As to the exhaust stack, the passengers as well as the manufacturer and maintenance company claimed that the stack was cracked and that the pilot and the inspectors should have found the defect.

The case settled prior to trial, with the parties splitting a $10 million dollar award. Of that, plaintiff#1 will receive $7 million, plaintiff#2 will receive $1.5 million, and plaintiff#3 will receive $750,000. The pilot will receive $750,000.

Electrician Killed in Explosion Due to Short Circuit, Estate Sues

At the end of July, 2001, plaintiff’s decedent, an electrician, and his co-worker, an electrician’s helper, were working at a job site in Union County. When they turned the power on in a section of the electrical system they were working on, a short circuit caused an explosion, injuring the helper and killing the electrician. The electrician did not die for six weeks after the accident, and the co-worker was severely burned on his upper body and remains permanently disfigured. It was later determined that a steel bar had been left in the switchbox, which caused the short circuit when the power was sent through.

The decedent’s family and the electrician’s helper filed suit in Union County against various entities in charge of maintaining and/or inspecting the property and electrical equipment involved in the explosion, as well as the manufacturer of the equipment, citing theories of negligence. All defendant’s denied liability and instead pointed the finger at the plaintiffs, claiming that they could have left the steel rod in the equipment. The case settled prior to trial for $1.37 million dollars, of which the electrician’s family will receive $771,000 and the co-worker will receive $600,000. Multiple defendants’ insurance carriers contributed to the settlement.

Fuel Pump Comes Without Proper Instructions, Results in Explosion

In December 1999, the plaintiff was working on his friend’s car, replacing a fuel pump. He and the friend finished the installation and started the car, at which point a spark from the engine ignited fumes from the pump, causing serious injuries. Plaintiff suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 20% of his body, injuries which required multiple surgeries and left him with permanent scarring. Evidence showed that the replacement fuel pump had differently sized electrical connectors, and hence resulted in the spark that caused the explosion.

Plaintiff sued the friend and manufacturer of the fuel pump for products liability, pointing out that the instructions in no way informed a would be installer of this problem. The defendant’s denied liability, and the case was tried to a verdict in Middlesex County Superior Court. The jury found that the friend was not the cause of the accident, but that the manufacturer of the fuel pump was responsible for plaintiff’s injuries. They awarded him $2.5 million dollars.

Acetylene Tank Leak Leads to Explosion at PSE&G

In late 2001, plaintiff, a steam fitter, was working at PSE&G. He was using a grinder, a hard wheel used for sanding metal, when the sparks from the grinder caused an explosion. It was later determined that a sub contractor working at the job site had left an acetylene tank valve on, thereby allowing the explosive gas to leak out. Plaintiff suffered a broken orbital bone and a significant brain bruise with left him with a cognitive deficit.

Plaintiff sued in Middlesex County Superior Court, naming the general contractor on the job site as well as the company that left the tank valve on. The court later let the general contractor out of the case. Thereafter, the case settled just prior to trial, and the plaintiff received $1.25 million from the defendant’s insurance carrier.

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