Jury Finds for Shipper in Worker Exposed to Toxic Fumes at Railyard

In August 2008, 30-year-old Kevin Harrison was working for Norfolk Southern Railway when he was exposed to acid fumes from a leaking barrel at Norfolk’s rail yard in Hammond, Ind.  The acid had been shipped from Michigan in an inter-modal container owned by the defendant K Line America, which is a subsidiary of a Japanese company.

One day earlier, the driver for the defendant trucking company, Mason Dixon Intermodal, had selected the K Line container from those available at the Mason & Dixon’s Lines Inc. yard in Dearborn, Mich.

The Mason Dixon Intermodal driver inspected the interior of the container and then drove it to the loading dock of Beaver Packaging & Crating, where Beaver employees loaded 40- to 55-gallon polymer drums filled with 30 percent strength acetic acid into the inter-modal container. 

The Mason Dixon driver and Beaver employees denied seeing any nails in the floor of the container.  However, after the cargo was loaded, the container was driven to Norfolk’s rail yard in Michigan where it was loaded as part of a train heading to Indiana.

After the train arrived in Hammond, Harrison’s train from Toledo, Ohio, arrived at the same rail yard.

Harrison’s job duties as a conductor required him to walk around the train containing the acetic acid. At that time he was exposed to the fumes.

Post-accident investigation revealed the presence of a bent nail in the shipping container’s floor underneath the leaking drum.  This break caused the leakage. Soon after Harrison’s exposure, he experienced lung constriction, blocked breathing and other “chemical asthmatic symptoms.”

Harrison sought medical treatment after he returned to Toledo.  He has been treated since the fall of 2008 for reactive air dysfunction syndrome (RADS), also known as chemically induced asthma. Harrison will need monitoring, prescriptions and inhalers for the rest of his life.

He contended that the defendants were negligent in choosing not to detect the nail’s presence. Mason Dixon asserted a truck driver does not have the responsibility to check a container floor and discover the existence of a nail, which was less than an inch above the floor surface.  The truck driver’s chief responsibility is the safe transport of the tractor and container and the shipper is primarily responsible for the safety of the contents. 

K Line contended that it had no responsibility to inspect the many containers that it sees and that its “spot check” procedures were sufficient.  K Line said it allocated the responsibility of inspection to Mason & Dixon Lines (a company related to the defendant Mason Dixon Intermodal).  Mason & Dixon Lines agreed to accept the contractual tender of K Line’s defense in the plaintiff’s case.  The defense argued the sole proximate cause of the barrel leak was inadequate inspection by Beaver Packaging, that plaintiff’s exposure was minimal, that his symptoms were temporary and resolved within a few months, that his exposure did not cause permanent lung damage or RADS and that his pre-existing hay fever and allergies were the source of his breathing difficulties. 

Harrison settled with Norfolk and Beaver for $250,000 right before the beginning of the trial.  However, the jury found in favor of the defendants Mason Dixon Intermodal and K Line America.  Before trial, the demand to the settle the case was $265,000 wherein the plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to return a verdict of $1,149,469.  The offer to settle from the defendants Mason Dixon Intermodal and K Line was a total of $45,000.

Kevin Harrison v. Mason Dixon Intermodal, Inc., K Line America, et al., 08 L  11765.

Kreisman Law Offices has been successfully handling truck accident cases, toxic exposure cases, forklift accidents and work injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Sauganash, River North, Norwood Park, Andersonville, Little Italy), Streamwood, Tinley Park, Melrose Park, Willow Springs, Worth, Oak Forest, Flossmoor, Elmwood Park, Chicago Heights, Burr Ridge, Blue Island, Berkeley, Bellwood and Barrington Hills, Ill.

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