In Oakdale, Louisiana, on March 8th, 2000, a pressurized tank owned by Arizona Chemical Co., Inc., containing a heat transfer fluid over-heated. The tank had a safety shut off valve which failed, resulting in the short-term release of chemical vapor into the air. The vapor, containing biphenyl and phenyl oxide, drifted toward the home of a nearby resident, Ms. Edna Miller. The release was short lived and was contained within 30 minutes but caused very real damages. Edna and Bruce Miller sued Arizona Chemical Co, Inc., for personal injuries following the chemical release. As a result, Edna Miler was awarded $12,5000 in damages. However, Bruce Miller’s claim was denied as a verdict in favor of Arizona Chemical was issued.
Both parties appealed the decisions in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed Edna Miller’s award for $12,500 and refused to award her additional damages. Bruce Miller’s claim on appeal was also denied, and he was awarded no damages. Edna Miller was awarded damages while her son Bruce was not because he could not meet his burden of proof to show that the chemical release caused him any harm.
At the time of the exposure Edna was inside her home. Her son Bruce was at work, as a groundskeeper at a nearby high school. Mr. Miller left work to check on his mother when he heard about the chemical release. He found Edna outside on the lawn, nauseous, and about to leave the area. He helped her into her car and she drove away. Bruce Miler stayed on the property for several minutes, went in the house, had a glass of water and washed his face. He said his eyes and throat were burning and he felt shortness of breath.
Later that day Mrs. Miller visited the emergency room with heart palpitations, shortness of breath and nausea. She was released when she no longer had symptoms from the chemical release. Arizona Chemical company paid her medical bill and the bills of four other people that day who complained of symptoms related to the chemical release. Mr. Miller did not seek medical attention that day. He stated that five hours after the exposure he developed a rash on his hands. This rash was later found to be caused by his taking Celebrex and by his long time smoking habit, not from the chemical release. He has suffered skin rashes many times before in his life.
In order to recover damages for personal injury the injured party must prove that the other party was the primary, if not only, cause of the injury. Mr. Miller’s treating family practitioner testified that his breathing problems, rashes, and other symptoms were related to the chemical exposure. However, the physician did not know until the day of trial what chemical the Millers were exposed to, nor the type of ailments that particular substance could cause. The doctor said that the timing of the chemical release and Mr. Miller’s symptoms were what led him to that conclusion. The Defendant presented opinions of expert toxicologists who testified that Mr. Miller’s continuing symptoms could not have been caused by the brief transient exposure to the chemical vapor on March 8, 2000. Because Mr. Miller could not show that the cause of his symptoms was due to the chemical release, the Court of Appeals affirmed that he was not entitled to damages from Arizona Chemical Co., Inc.
Showing that an action by one party caused injury to someone can be complicated. The inured party must prove that their injury was caused by the other party and that the injury caused them some harm. In this case Mrs. Miller suffered some harm, but not harm requiring compensation more than the $12,500 the court said. Mr. Miller was not able to meet his burden of proof showing that the chemical release was the cause of his injuries and thus failed at his claim.
If you have suffered an injury due to chemical release or some other action of another party, you may be entitled to damages if you can meet the proper burden of proof. Whether or not a party has met their burden of proof is a question for the judge or jury and is essential to receiving compensation for personal injury. If you or someone you know has suffered an injury due to another party, an experienced attorney can help you determine if you may be able to meet the burden of proof to be awarded damages by the court.