By Gregory H. Haubrich
Attorney at Law
THE ORKIN CASE
The first really complex toxic injury case I worked on was against Orkin. They had a termite eradication and protection plan for my client Eileen, an elderly widow living in the Nichols Hills area of Oklahoma City.
Nearly every year she had termites emerge in the spring (when they swarm and attempt to form new castle/colonies). Each time Orkin came out, collected their annual fee, and injected more chlordane into what they thought was the space between the slab and the foundation, but turned out to be the HVAC vents in Eileen’s house!
Ultimately she died of shingles, a horrible death. Our toxicology expert believed, and I agree, that she was killed in this way by the termiticide. The chemical in the air caused Eileen to have asthma symptoms. She would end up in the hospital and be given doses of steroids to calm the asthma. Her immune system was depressed by the steroids, which left her vulnerable to the virus which always resides in your spinal fluid if you have ever had chicken pox. The virus activated, caused shingles, and this wonderfully sweet lady died.
Think about this: The brilliant, experienced Orkin man had floated enough chlordane in the house to kill the human, but it was still rife with termites!
Part of the settlement was that Orkin bought the house, with disclaimers to all future purchasers, and had the opportunity to clean up the mess they made.
Chlordane, a close chemical relative of DDT, has since been banned for all use in the United States but is still used on corporate farms in Latin America without adequate warnings or protections for farm workers there.
LONG V. ALLIED SIGNAL
Another fascinating and sad case was Long v. Allied Signal. Allied Signal was shipping waste chemicals from California to Arkansas for incineration. Acids in the chemical mixture ate through the teflon gaskets of the hatches of the tanker trailer, and started spraying out in an aerosol mixture at the Love’s Truck Stop on Choctaw Road and I-40, east of Oklahoma City.
My client was out mowing his yard about a mile north of there. The wind was blowing from the south. You know those little diamond shaped signs on the back of trailers that are carrying flammables or chemicals? They have symbols and numbers so that emergency responders can see what kinds of dangers they are dealing with.
In this case the trailer was seriously mis-labeled. Because of the incorrect information, the firefighters and hazardous materials units thought the chemicals were basically inert and non-toxic. Otherwise they would have established a huge exclusion and evacuation zone. Instead, Carl’s first warnings was when he started getting red and itchy and feeling dizzy. He had been exposed to a mixture of toxins including neurotoxins (chemicals which can injure the brain and other nerve systems in the body). As a result, he developed asthma and brain damage.
This case was tried to a jury in federal court. Allied Signal offered Mr. Long just $15,000.00 for permanently injuring his ability to think and remember. They had high-powered experts and lawyers that said he had no injury at all.
We caught one of their experts in a small lie; under cross-examination this very expensive doctor turned into jello on the stand, and basically admitted that Mr. Long had been exposed to a mixture of chemicals which could injure every system and every organ in the body, would cross the blood-brain barrier that protects our brains from chemicals, and cause brain damage.
The jury awarded Carl $510,000.00, including a finding that Allied Signal had acted recklessly and maliciously. I’m told the jaw of the defense lawyer from the tall-building law firm dropped open in disbelief when the verdict came back. (He had it coming, too, because he told the jury Mr. Long was not injured. Thankfully the jury saw through it — with the help, I must say, of a damned fine trial lawyer who also had a really great young lawyer, Carol Keeter, for a partner. )
Still, I wouldn’t take $510,000.00, less lawyer’s fees and costs, to have my brain permanently altered by chemical poisons. Would you?
If you’ve been injured by toxic chemicals you’ve been exposed to, Contact me today for a free confidential case evaluation.