CALHOUN CITY, Miss. (AP)- Four workers who claimed they suffered medical problems because of inadequate ventilation from a hazardous chemical at a Houston, Miss., furniture plant have been awarded about $9.5 million from a Calhoun County jury.
The four workers sued furniture maker Franklin Corp.
They alleged that they repeatedly asked management whether the adhesive they sprayed on foam cushioning was causing nausea, dizziness, laryngitis, coughing, headaches and other medical problems. They claimed the company ignored their questions.
On Friday, the jury awarded compensatory damages of $1.9 million and punitive damages of $7.5 million to Pauline Tedford and Lora Smith of Euopra, Judy Haire of Vardaman and Samantha Mixon of Houston, who worked at Franklin Corp. for varying lengths of time between 1999 and 2004.
Tim Crawley, one of the lawyers who represented Franklin Corp., said he had no comment to make about the lawsuit.
''A judgment hasn't been entered yet,'' he said Tuesday. ''It would be premature to consider an appeal until a judgment is entered.''
The trial judge, under state law, can modify the award.
In 2002, the Legislature limited non-economic damages to $500,000 until July 1, 2011, at which time the limit increases to $1 million by 2017. The law reduced to two years the time in which suits could be brought against nursing homes and granted liability immunity to a number of health care providers.
The 2004 Legislature passed a $500,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases and a $1 million cap on all others, and also gave retailers a shield against product liability lawsuits.
Heber Simmons III, who represented the plaintiffs, said he expects punitive damages to be reduced because of those tort reform caps.
Simmons said a hearing about the net worth of Franklin Corp. and application of the tort reform caps on punitive damages is scheduled for Thursday in Calhoun City.
Franklin Corp. is one of the largest privately owned furniture manufacturers in the United States with about 1,200 workers.
According to court documents, the company used Soft Seam Adhesive, which contained a hazardous chemical known as propyl bromide from 1999 until 2004.
''The materials safety data sheet and warning labels clearly indicated potential for nervous system damage, brain damage, main organ system failure, liver and kidney failure,'' said Simmons. ''The requirement is that it be adequately ventilated and respiratory protection provided.''
On average, the plaintiffs were directly exposed to Soft Seam Adhesive in enclosed booths without ventilation, respiratory protection, or eye or skin protection for 10-12 hours a day, court documents showed.
Simmons said after Mixon's mother-in-law complained to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA tested the amount of propyl bromide in the air in February 2004 and determined the exposure was 17 times the recommended maximum human exposure limit for the chemical.
Soon after, Franklin Corp. changed to different glue and installed a ventilation system, Simmons said.