A recent Illinois personal injury lawsuit received a large verdict award, granting $30.4 million to the plaintiff in Solis v. BASF Corp., No. 06 L 12105. Several other parties to the Illinois work place injury lawsuit had settled with the plaintiff prior to trial for undisclosed amounts, but BASF Corp. opted to take the case to trial rather than settling. The supply company’s gamble failed, as evidenced by the positive plaintiff verdict.
In Solis, the plaintiff developed bronchiolitis obliterans.pdf, or ‘popcorn lung disease’, after 18 years of working in various factories. Bronchiolitis obliterans has been linked to exposure to substances used to make microwave popcorn, such as diacetyl.
After being diagnosed with the life-threatening disease, Solis now has a reduced lung capacity of only 25 percent. This means that without a lung transplant the life-long nonsmoker and unmarried father of three could die if he develops the flu or other respiratory diseases. The 45 year-old Illinois resident brought a Cook County workplace injury lawsuit against several parties alleging that his current condition was a result of his exposure to fumes and dust particles while working with artificial butter flavoring.
Over one dozen defendants were named in the lawsuit, including factories where Solis worked and numerous companies supplying chemicals to those factories. Plaintiff’s attorneys were able to reach a settlement with all the defendants except for BASF Corp., a company responsible for supplying diacetyl to the last factory where Soils worked. BASF Corp.’s last offer was over $2.5 million less than what plaintiff was demanding. Unable to reach a settlement agreement, the case went to trial.
BASF Corp. contended that the they did not cause Solis’s disease because he already had a severely reduced lung capacity when he began working at the factory BASF was supplying and that therefore it should not be liable for his injury. However, his lung capacity did reduce by another 10 percent after working there, which seemed to be the main point that swayed the jury. Also, diacetyl, the chemical that BASF supplied to the factory, has been linked to popcorn lung disease.
The jury returned a verdict of $32 million to the plaintiff, which was reduced by five percent for his contributory negligence. The breakdown was $7 million each for loss of normal life, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and shortened life expectancy, with an additional $2.3 million for medical expenses and over $1.3 million for lost earnings.
While BASF’s attorneys are planning to appeal the Illinois verdict, the decision not to settle has been a costly one for the defense. Not only are they now at risk of paying over $30 million to the plaintiff, but have to pay lawyers’ fees for the two-week work injury trial and any additional attorneys’ fees from its eventual appeal. The plaintiff’s final demand to settle before the trial was $3 million, which is over $23 million less than the eventual jury verdict award. Perhaps this case will send a message to defendants and insurance companies that Illinois juries are not afraid of administering justice and forcing companies to pay for their mistakes when necessary.
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