A truck driver who developed severe breathing problems after she was exposed to nitric acid vapors that leaked out of a barrel she was hauling has confidentially settled a lawsuit against the company that packaged the chemical for $2 million, her attorneys report.
Shannon Altamura and Matthew Altamura of Garrett, Walker, Aycoth & Altamura in Asheboro said that their client was hauling chemicals from North Carolina to South Carolina in 2014, and when she inspected her load, she was exposed to the vapors. She developed reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS), which causes problems such extreme shortness of breath, exacerbation of acute asthma, and recurrent pneumonia.
“Unfortunately, our client will not recover from this condition, but her symptoms are being carefully managed by her pulmonologist,” Shannon Altamura said.
The lawsuit was filed in North Carolina, but since the incident happened in South Carolina, South Carolina law applied to the case.
The case began as a workers’ compensation claim, but the attorneys discovered that the barrel had a leak. The barrel was destroyed during hazmat cleanup, however, so the attorneys were left battling competing theories of fault with the chemical distribution company, which claimed that the client had skipped a scheduled inspection of the barrel during the trip. But the leaking barrel likely didn’t tip over until sometime later, since the client could have died from overwhelming exposure to nitric acid if it had tipped over before the scheduled inspection, Shannon Altamura said.
The company also claimed that the client’s reckless driving had pierced the barrel, but her attorneys said that an accident reconstructionist proved that even reckless driving of a tractor trailer wouldn’t puncture a steel barrel, so the barrel must have been damaged when the client picked it up.
Matthew Altamura said that “this was a case where the science was really on our side” and owed much of the settlement’s success to an expert’s “compelling ‘MythBusters’ style recreation video and his expert engineering commentary at our mediation.”
Other details about the settlement, including the identity of the defendant and its attorneys, were unavailable due to a confidentiality agreement.
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SETTLEMENT REPORT – PRODUCT LIABILITY
Injuries alleged: Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome
Case name: Confidential
Date of settlement: July 2019
Most helpful experts: Aaron Keifer of Cary (accident reconstruction), Dr. Donald A. Fox of Austin, Texas (toxicology), and Michael Klein of Charleston, South Carolina (hazardous material handling)
Attorneys for plaintiff: Matthew Altamura and Shannon Altamura of Garrett, Walker, Aycoth & Altamura in Asheboro
Attorneys for defendant: Withheld