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Plant worker awarded $28 million from employer for lung damage

With the city's proximity to the border, it's not unusual for Pittsburg residents to cross the state line to go to work, and workers' compensation laws vary from state to state. Legal options and available benefits may change for Kansas residents who are injured on the job in a neighboring state.

Workers' compensation benefits are paid to employees who become ill or injured in the workplace. In exchange for benefits, workers agree not to bring liability lawsuits against employers. In some states, like nearby Missouri, exceptions to the rules permit employees to make civil claims.

A 56-year-old employee, who suffered lung problems while working in a compressor plant, recently won a $28 million damage award. Twenty-three million was awarded for punitive damages. A jury deliberated only two hours before deciding the plant's owner, Emerson Climate Technologies, was responsible for the worker's occupational disease.

According to the lawsuit, the employee developed a severe lung infection after inhaling a work chemical that was contaminated with bacteria and mold. A faulty ventilator caused a toxic vapor cloud to develop where the plaintiff was working. The infection caused permanent damage to the worker's lungs.

The complaint alleged Emerson knew the fluid was hazardous but provided employees with no safety warnings or training to prevent injuries.

The company argued that the plaintiff continued to work at the plant in the same capacity until the legal action reached trial. Emerson also asserted that the respiratory disorder did not prevent the plaintiff from riding a bicycle to work or other physical activities. The worker's lawyer noted that the employee no longer worked in the same part of the compressor plant where the accident took place.

Emerson plans an appeal.

Workers' compensation laws and claims can be complicated. Filing mistakes can lead to delays or denials of benefits. An attorney will help you receive the maximum benefits and advise whether a separate civil action is viable.

Source: stltoday.com, "'Guinea pig' worker wins $28 million from Emerson unit" Jim Gallagher, Nov. 24, 2013

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