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Man Awarded $1.8 Million For Chemical Burns (PA)

April 7, 2016

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On March 17, 2016, a <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Keith-v.-Hatfield-Quality-Meats.pdf" rel="">Philadelphia jury awarded</a> a sanitation worker $1.8 million after he was partially blinded from a workplace accident.  The trial lasted for two weeks resulting in the jury’s decision which found the defendant Hatfield Quality Meats 87% liable for plaintiff Joseph Keith Jr.’s injuries.
According to the pretrial memo, the case arose from an incident where Keith was cleaning Hatfield’s facility with sodium hydroxide.  As he was wrapping up the hose he used to spray the chemical, it struck him in the face, knocked off his protective glasses, and caused the chemical to drip into his right eye.  Keith then washed his eyes out in a sink but it was ten minutes before he could find a proper eyewash station.
Keith’s pretrial memo stated that he was rendered blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear.  He claimed lost earning capacity and future medical care costs of between $1.8 and $2.5 million.  The memo also stated that Keith  was permanently disfigured and “looks like a monster to his five children.”
Plaintiff’s counsel harped on the issue of eyewash stations being placed in accordance with OSHA regulations.  They stated that the nearest eyewash stations were 155 and 210 feet away and there were several obstructions in the way.  According to the pretrial memo, the eyewash station that Keith eventually used was locked in another room.  Under OSHA regulations, eyewash stations should be within 50 feet of where chemicals are being used.
Hatfield contended that Keith’s employer didn’t properly train him and that his employer determined the location of the eyewash stations and chemical hose.  Hatfield also stated that OSHA visited the plant on a quarterly basis and they were never cited for violations.  They also questioned whether Keith was properly wearing his safety glasses in the first place.  Hatfield also contended that Keith is very capable of working and has formed several businesses since the accident and as such overstated his injuries.
At trial the plaintiff’s team used several experts.  One stated that having a closer eyewash station would have significantly lessened Keith’s injuries.  Another stated that an eyewash station would have been irrelevant since the damage to Keith’s eyes was instantaneous.  However, on cross, it came out that this expert based her opinion on a 49% solution of sodium hydroxide while the solution Keith was using at the time of the accident was only 1%.
The case illustrates several important points in litigation, the first being the use of regulations and defendant’s compliance with them.  It demonstrates that all entities should strive to meet them to comply with the law and safeguard their workers even though a company can be found liable with an absence of citations or violations.  The use of experts is also found in this suit and how they can support a case or hurt it when holes are poked in their findings.  And finally, the issue of a sympathetic plaintiff is here with Keith, a young man with a family, suffering blindness and hearing damage and becoming disfigured.  Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:bgibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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