A jury found a company responsible for causing a worker’s respiratory injury. The price the company now has to pay: $28 million.
Copeland Scroll Compressors of Lebanon, MO, a division of Emerson Climate Technologies, was found responsible for causing Philip Berger’s hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
The Copeland plant manufactures air conditioner compressors. In 2005, Berger says a machine malfunction exposed him to a cloud of toxic fumes including mold, bacteria and a chemical used to cool tools.
According to the National Institutes of Health, hypersensitivity pneumonitis is “a disease in which the lungs become inflamed from breathing in foreign substances, such as molds, dusts and chemicals.”
The triggering substances are known as antigens. Over time, lungs can become sensitive to certain antigens. If that happens, they’ll become inflamed which can make it more difficult for oxygen to pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream. If treatment is delayed, the disease can cause long-term lung damage.
Berger’s attorney argued the company knew the dangers of working with the cooling fluid and failed to warn employees or provide safety training. His attorney said Copeland used Berger as a “blue-collar guinea pig.”
The jury awarded Berger $5 million in actual damages and $23 million in punitive damages.
The company called into the question the degree of Berger’s injury, noting he continued to work at the plant, clocking more than 200 hours of overtime in a year, and he rode his bicycle two miles each way to and from work.
Berger says he does what he can to keep himself in good physical shape, even with the condition.
In a statement, the company called the jury’s decision “preposterous.” It plans to appeal.
The company doesn’t have to pay any part of the $28 million while appeals are underway. It could be many years before the case is finally resolved.
Berger says since the verdict he has still shown up for work but has been escorted off company property. “It looks like I’ve been fired but I can’t say for sure,” he told a local TV station.