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Somerset County

This was an action involving a 32-year-old security guard employed by a security company who suffered second and third degree burns over 85% of his body as a result of an explosion which occurred when he was responding to an alarm bell that sounded after an extremely large "Ball mill," which utilizes small metal balls which collide with acetone and carbon black to produce paint, overheated. The unit, housed inside a building, exploded as the decedent was investigating the alarm, causing second and third degree burns to 85% of his body, notwithstanding that he had not entered the building. The injuries took the unmarried decedent’s life 64 days later. The plaintiff contended that the cause of the overheating condition was the failure to inspect the "water jacket" component of the unit which had been repaired for leaks and which had clogged become clogged with rust that had been released during the welding process.

The unit had been sent to a co-defendant who did the actual welding of the water jacket and the plaintiff also contended that before returning the unit to the paint manufacturing plant, this co-defendant should have inspected the water jacket as well. The plaintiff also contended that the defendant paint manufacturer required the untrained security guards to investigate alarms in violation of OSHA and failed to provide protective clothing which would have greatly reduced the extent of the burns suffered. The plaintiff also contended that the operations manager of the plant disregarded advisements that repairs to the machine, built in 1940s would be inadequate and that the machine should be replaced, which would entail the expenditure of approximately $________ more than the repairs cost.

The original manufacturer of the machine was not named as a defendant. The plaintiff maintained that the defendant paint manufacturer acted in a willful and wanton manner and punitive damages were demanded against this defendant. The evidence disclosed that the explosion occurred during the first cycle of the machine which was run after the unit had been returned from the co-defendant welding company.

The plaintiff maintained that during the welding process, "scale" or rust can well be dislodged from the inner sides of the metal water jacket and obstruct the water lines. The plaintiff contended that an inspection after the accident revealed that the line was almost fully clogged and would have introduced a videotape taken by the defendant paint manufacturer as part of its accident investigation which showed such blockage. The plaintiff’s expert metallurgist contended that both the co- defendant welding company and the paint manufacturer should have inspected the part before returning it to service. The welding company contended that the paint manufacturer had the responsibility to conduct such inspections. The plaintiff’s metallurgist maintained that both parties had such an obligation.

The plaintiff also contended that both the safety manager and maintenance manager, who are subordinate to the operations manager, were concerned that once an initial leak was welded, the remainder of the jacket would be weakened and had advised that ball mill should be replaced with a newer model, rather than repaired. The plaintiff contended that the operations manager declined to follow such advisements because of the additional $________ cost. The defendant paint manufacturer indicated that it had only planned on using this ball mill for another six months because of downsizing and then use the remaining approximately 25 ball mills and contended that its decision was understandable.

The plaintiff countered that it was clear that this defendant had placed cost considerations above safety.

The plaintiff also maintained that the security guards were required, as a part of their duties, to investigate the sounding of any alarm on the premises. The plaintiff contended that the guards were untrained for such work and that assigning them to conduct such work violated OSHA regulations. The plaintiff would have also contended that a union grievance had been filed on behalf of the workers because of such assignments and that the grievance was pending at the time of the accident.

The plaintiff additionally contended that the defendant paint manufacturer compounded the hazard by failing to provide protective clothing. The plaintiff’s safety expert related that such clothing, worn by workers in atomic energy and chemical plants, would have prevented all but the facial burns and that the decedent would have undoubtedly survived.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant paint manufacturer’s conduct was willful and wanton and warranted punitive damages.

The defendant paint manufacturer would have contended that the security guards were appropriately trained and that they should have called the supervisor before responding to the alarm. The plaintiff would have countered that in discovery, the maintenance manager had conceded having instructed the guards to investigate before calling him.

The plaintiff contended that when the decedent heard the overheating alarm, he went to investigate and although there were no eyewitnesses to the accident, the undisputed evidence reflected that the plaintiff was found outside the building and that doors to the building in which the unit is housed were closed and were bent outward, establishing that they were not open. The plaintiff’s expert mechanical engineer contended that when the chemicals overheated, it caused the hatch to fail and that the highly flammable chemicals entered the room. The expert maintained that once the vapors escaped, an explosion could occur from any number of causes, including static electricity. The expert maintained that in view of the age of the machine, the defendant paint manufacturer should have also added an interlock device which would have automatically shut down the device when the alarm sounded upon the failure of the hatch.

The defendant paint manufacturer contended that the defendant welding company should have conducted an inspection prior to returning the unit. The plaintiff maintained that although this co-defendant should have conducted an inspection, the paint manufacturer also had a strong obligation to do so as well, pointing to its own internal procedures which call for such an inspection.

The plaintiff contended that the decedent suffered second and third degree burns over 85% of his body. The investigating police officer related that the burns were so severe that he observed skin sloughing off and piling up next to the decedent. The decedent was brought to the burn unit at St. Barnabas Hospital where the decedent’s father made similar observations. The plaintiff contended that the decedent was unable to speak for most of the hospitalization and could only communicate with family members by blinking his eyes. The evidence reflected that because of the onset of an eye infection, the physicians were required to sew the eyelids shut. The decedent tore through the sutures a short time thereafter. The plaintiff contended that the decedent was conscious during most of the 64-day hospital stay and that the pain was excruciating despite significant amounts of morphine which was administered.

The decedent was unmarried. The plaintiff presented an expert on hedonic damages who discussed the value of varying aspects of the loss of enjoyment of life during the 64-day hospitalization, which the plaintiff would have contended should be compensable in addition to the compensation for the severe pain and suffering.

The plaintiff would have also contended that the loss of intangibles under Green/Bitner was significant.

The case settled prior to trial for $________, including $________ from the paint manufacturer and $________ from the co-defendant welding company.

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