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ARTICLE ID 32292

$________ - NEGLIGENT FAILURE OF FURNACE SERVICEMAN TO INSPECT FLUE AND REMOVE BIRD NESTS - INABILITY OF COMBUSTIBLE GASES TO ESCAPE - EXPLOSION WHEN PLAINTIFF OPENS UP OBSERVATION PORT, INTRODUCING OXYGEN - FLAMES SHOOT BACK - SIGNIFICANT SCARRING AND NERVE DAMAGE TO FOREARM CAUSING NUMBNESS WHICH REACHES PALMAR SURFACE OF DOMINANT HAND - INABILITY TO CONTINUE AS PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR FOR PLYWOOD AND VENEER MANUFACTURING COMPANY - RELATIVELY SLIGHT SCARRING TO FACE, NECK AND LEFT SHOULDER.

Middlesex County

This was an action which the 51-year-old male plaintiff, a production supervisor for a plywood and wood veneer manufacturing company, contended that the defendant heating and cooling maintenance company, who had been called to service the furnace because of frequent incidents of malfunctions, negligently failed to inspect the flue and observe the presence of bird nests and dead birds in the flue. The plaintiff contended that combustible gas could not escape and that an explosion occurred when he opened an observation port to see if the pilot light was lit, resulting in flames shooting back. The plaintiff contended that he suffered second degree burns over 9.5% of his body, including his right, dominant forearm, arm, neck, face and left shoulder. The plaintiff contended that although the scarring to the face, neck and left shoulder is very minimal, the scarring to the right forearm and arm is relatively significant and resulted in damage along the median nerve, causing a loss of sensation in the forearm and palmar aspect of the right hand which will prevent him from continuing in his production supervisor’s job. The plaintiff related that the employer had moved into the premises a few months earlier after the premises had been vacant for approximately two years. The plaintiff maintained that the employer had regular problems in which the furnace would shut down. The plaintiff contended that the defendant visited the premises a few days earlier to ascertain the difficulties and service the furnace. The plaintiff contended that the defendant negligently failed to inspect the flue and the plaintiff’s furnace expert contended that such an inspection is required. The plaintiff’s expert also maintained that the obstruction caused by the bird nests prevented combustible gases from escaping, impacting on the balance between oxygen and the other combustible gases which is necessary for the furnace to function properly.

The expert maintained that when the plaintiff opened the port and went through the reset procedure, air mixed with such gases and that the pilot light then caused the ignition.

The defendant contended that the plaintiff probably failed to correctly follow the steps listed on the furnace for resetting the furnace and that if he had done so, the accident would not have occurred. The plaintiff countered that he had followed the instructions and contended that the accident would have been prevented if the defendant had simply inspected and cleaned out the flue.

The evidence disclosed that the plaintiff was airlifted to the burn center at St. Barnabas Hospital. The plaintiff’s treating burn specialist related that the plaintiff suffered second degree burns over 9.5% of his body, including the face, neck and right forearm and left shoulder. The expert testified that the plaintiff required daily debridements during his 12 day stay at the hospital. The physician indicated that the debridements were very painful despite the use of morphine. The physician also indicated that the plaintiff required several more debridements after his discharge.

The physician contended that the noticeable scarring on the right forearm is permanent in nature. The burn specialist also related that the plaintiff will permanently suffer a significant sensory deficit in the area of this scarring and that the resulting nerve damage also caused numbness along the median nerve distribution path, reaching the palmar surface of the right hand. The plaintiff’s plastic surgeon related that the scarring to the forearm and minor scarring to the other areas are permanent and that plastic surgery would not be helpful to the forearm. There was no evidence that the remaining scars were sufficiently severe to warrant surgery.

The plaintiff contended that his production supervisor position required fine motor skills and that the absence of sensation prevents him from doing this work effectively. The plaintiff maintained that he had worked in this capacity for many years, took great pride in his work and that he is now relegated to driving for a landscaping company in a job paying $________ per year. The plaintiff was earning $________ per year. The defendant’s vocational expert contended that the plaintiff could return to the same type of work. The plaintiff countered that he would clearly much rather work at this job, which he did for many years, than accept a much lower paying job if it weren’t for the injuries. The plaintiff also elicited testimony during cross- examination of the defendant’s vocational expert that his right dominant hand was inferior to his left hand and functioned below average. The plaintiff also pointed to the findings of the defendant’s examining neuropsychiatrist that the plaintiff had, in fact, suffered a sensory deficit in the hand and that he was motivated to work. The plaintiff testified that the numbness prevents him from continuing fishing and hunting which he had also formerly enjoyed. The plaintiff indicated, however, that he can otherwise function well and perform everyday activities such as mowing the lawn.

The jury found the defendant ________% negligent and awarded $________, including $________ for pain and suffering, $________ for medical bills, $________ for past lost wages, $________ for future lost wages and $________ on the per quod claim.

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