CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, 2001.
A federal jury in Little Rock, Arkansas, returned a complete defense verdict in favor of Ecolab Inc. in this product liability case brought by a 22-year-old man who was bilaterally blinded.
This case arose from an accident that occurred while plaintiff Dedrick Williams was working in a meat processing plant. Plaintiff was using an Ecolab Model T Foamer, which consists of a 45-gallon stainless steel pressurized tank and a heavy-duty 50-foot rubber hose with a spray nozzle. Plaintiff claimed that the tank of the foamer contained various Ecolab chemicals. Plaintiff alleged that, as he was pulling on the foamer’s hose, the hose slipped out of his hands and dropped to the floor. When the nozzle hit the floor, according to plaintiff, the on/off lever on the spray nozzle moved to the “on” position, causing chemicals to spray under plaintiff’s face shield and into plaintiff’s eyes and resulted in his permanent bilateral blindness.
At trial, plaintiff asserted negligence, strict liability, and warranty claims. Plaintiff claimed that the design of the foamer nozzle was defective and unreasonably dangerous because, according to plaintiff, the spray nozzle could be inadvertently activated if the hose were accidentally dropped. He claimed that the warnings for the foamer were inadequate because, he alleged, they did not warn users to wear chemical goggles whenever using the foamer. Lastly, plaintiff claimed that Ecolab provided inadequate warnings for the chemicals it sold. Plaintiff asked the jury to award $4.9 million in compensatory damages; plaintiff’s punitive damages claim was dismissed after plaintiff’s case in chief.
Ecolab responded that the foamer as designed and supplied to Boar’s Head was reasonably safe for its intended uses, particularly in light of the fact that, in the nearly 25 years the design had been used before plaintiff’s accident, Ecolab had received no reports of other accidents associated with the foamer. Ecolab contended, based on eyewitness testimony, that plaintiff was sprayed in the face when he turned on the spray nozzle while holding it, not when he dropped the nozzle. Ecolab contended that, even if the accident happened the way plaintiff described, chemicals would not and could not spray vertically from the nozzle in such a way as to hit the operator’s face. Ecolab contended that the warnings for its chemicals were reasonable and appropriate and fully complied with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1200. The accident, according to Ecolab, was caused solely by the fault of the employer in substantially modifying the spray nozzle before the accident and in disregarding Ecolab’s warnings about the need for sanitation department workers to use goggles when handling chemicals.
The Eighth Circuit upheld Ecolab’s defense verdict on appeal in an unpublished decision.
Ecolab Inc. was represented by Richard Morgan, John Sear and Roshan Rajkumar of Bowman and Brooke’s Minneapolis office.