Jury Awards 403,000 to Worker Exposed to Toxic Gas at Citgo Refinery – Bland v. Citgo

In the Cook County personal injury case of Wayne C. Bland and Suzanne Bland v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 07 L 1633, a company takes responsibility for the negligence of one of its employees. The worker at the Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s Lemont plant left a piping system valve open, thereby releasing hydrofluoric gas into the surrounding areas. The cloud of noxious gases left another man hospitalized and led to the filing of this work injury lawsuit.

The 41 year-old plaintiff, Wayne Bland, was working as a crane operator for Imperial Crane at the time of his work injury. After breathing in the dangerous gas, Bland required a six day hospitalization due to the respiratory damage caused by the toxic gas. Bland was diagnosed with acute respiratory tract damage, which presented as a general chest tightness and a persistent cough. While Bland’s symptoms lasted for several months, his medical providers were unable to find any significant respiratory problems.

Because Bland was not employed by Citgo, it would not be responsible for paying any workers’ compensation he received as a result of his work injury. However, its employee was the cause of Bland’s accident, so by association Citgo was also at fault for Bland’s injury. Therefore, Bland brought a lawsuit against Citgo which accused the petroleum company of being responsible for its employee’s negligence in leaving the pipe valve open and for causing Bland’s subsequent injuries.

The law is fairly clear on an employer’s liability for its employee’s negligence. Therefore, the plaintiff’s attorney brought a motion for partial summary judgment which sought to decide the issue of Citgo’s liability in Bland’s injury. The rules of summary judgment allow a party to ask the court to rule in its favor; summary judgment can only be applied when there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and it is clear which party should prevail. In Bland, neither party disputed the fact that the Citgo employee had left the valve open and that the leaked toxic gas was the cause of Bland’s injuries. Therefore, the court entered a judgment against Citgo regarding its liability for Bland’s work injury.

However, the summary judgment did not deal with issues of damages. Bland had submitted a claim for $73,670 in medical bills, which included bills for psychological care. At the Cook County trial, Bland’s psychiatrist testified that he had suffered from a psychological condition as a result of his ongoing respiratory complaints. Citgo countered this testimony with its own which disputed the plaintiff’s claim that his psychological injury was caused by the gas exposure. In addition, Citgo disputed the value of $1.6 million that Bland had placed on his past and future lost wages, arguing that it was in fact a much lower amount.

The jury verdict proved that Bland was unable to convince the jurors as to the relevance of his psychological injury. When polled at the end of the trial, the jury stated that it did not accept that Bland’s psychological injury was related to his work accident. As a result, its verdict was much lower than the amount of damages Bland had attempted to claim.

The jury entered a $403,670 verdict, which included $100,000 to Bland’s wife for her loss of consortium and service. The verdict breakdown for Bland’s $303,670 award was as follows:

-$120,000 for pain and suffering,
-$80,000 for loss of income,
-$73,670 in medical expenses, and
-$30,000 for loss of normal life.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Cook County work injury lawsuits for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Evergreen Park, Maywood, Elmwood Park, Des Plaines, Chicago’s Logan Square, and Palatine, Illinois.

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