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ARTICLE ID 189587

DEFENDANT’S Toxic Tort – Exposure to toxic substance at workplace – Pulmonary and respiratory complaints.

Suffolk County, NY

Suffolk County Community College was undergoing a major redoing of its heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) plant. It bid out portions of the job to different contractors. The plaintiff, Fleet Mechanical Systems Corporation, won a contract to demolish the premises after subcontractors had removed chilling and cooling towers. Major Systems Corporation won the contract to remove the chilling and cooling towers. Fleet and Major Systems entered an agreement whereby Major Systems subcontracted to Fleet the job of removing the chilling and cooling towers. Major Systems retained the responsibility of providing new chillers and cooling towers when Fleet had finished its job. While cutting pipe that ran across chillers, Fleet employees alleged that they were exposed to a toxic substance that subsequently caused them to suffer pulmonary and respiratory illnesses.

They commenced this action against Suffolk County Community College and Major Systems Corporation alleging that both defendants had an obligation to provide a safe working environment and that the defendants had assured the plaintiff that the worksite had been remediated prior to Fleet beginning the job. The action against Suffolk County Community College was dismissed because Fleet failed to file notice of the action. Defendant Major Systems brought a third party action against Suffolk County Community College. Defendant Major Systems argued that it had no duty to direct or supervise the work and was in no way involved in the work. It further argued that the plaintiff employees did not suffer from the injuries they claimed and that any such injuries were not caused by exposure to the alleged toxin.

The plaintiffs alleged that while cutting a large pipe across the towers, they were exposed to spillage of liquid that later tested for hydrazine. An engineer of the college acknowledged at his deposition that he had informed potential contractors for the job that the site had been remediated and all toxins removed. Representatives of defendant Major Systems testified that they had no role in the performance of the work at the site because they had subcontracted that responsibility to plaintiff. An employee of Major Systems was at the job site only because he needed to know when the demolition work was complete so that Major Systems could supply the new chillers and cooling towers.

The plaintiffs alleged that they were disabled for life with pulmonary and respiratory illnesses. The judge threw out the claims for cancer because there was no evidence that any of the plaintiffs suffered from cancer. They were treated with steroids and nasal sprays. The plaintiffs’ expert ear, nose and throat physician opined that exposure to hydrazine could cause the illnesses claimed by the plaintiffs.

The defendant’s expert toxicologist opined that the symptoms complained of by the plaintiffs could only have been caused by the inhalation or the massive ingestion of hydrazine of four gallons. He said that this was not physically possible because the plaintiffs would have drowned. The defendant’s examining pulmonologist opined that the plaintiffs did not suffer from their alleged illnesses and that any symptoms they manifested could have been caused by their smoking.

The plaintiffs demanded approximately $________. An offer of $________ was made. The trial took two and a-half weeks.After deliberating for two hours, the jury returned a unanimous defense verdict, stating that Major Systems was not liable to Fleet.

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