Ten workers who suffered health problems from exposure during a toxic clean-up at a Kaiser Aluminum plant in the Spokane Valley are seeing their $13 million jury award disappear.
A federal appeals court has overturned the verdict and sent the case back to court, saying the judge erred during the trial.
The workers sued Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. and General Electric Co. in 1992, alleging the companies had failed to provide safeguards against dangerous cleaning solvents.
After a jury agreed with the workers in July 1994, the companies asked the trial judge to set aside the $13 million award and grant a new trial.
In a ruling filed last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle had erred in not granting the defendants a new trial.
No money was paid out while the legal fight continued the past three years.
The federal appeals court said Van Sickle should have granted another trial “because of the erroneous admission of testimony” from a medical expert who testified for the plaintiffs.
The appeals court said the medical expert shouldn’t have been allowed to give certain testimony about the injured workers’ conditions.
The judge should have examined that error in considering the companies’ motion to set aside the jury award, the appeals court ruled.
The ruling erases the damages award and sends the suit back to Van Sickle for another jury trial, which probably won’t be held until next year.
The parties also could agree to an outof-court settlement, which frequently happens in civil suits.
The workers were employed by General Electric to clean PCBs from the basement at Kaiser Aluminum’s Trentwood plant in 1988.
The workers, paid $9 an hour, were sent to do the toxic cleanup work in their street clothes and were given only paper masks and coveralls after they complained about adverse health effects.
They suffered injuries ranging from memory loss to brain damage after breathing cleaning solvents, the trial jury was told.
Kaiser Aluminum blamed General Electric, which it had hired for the cleanup.
One of the plaintiffs, Merlin Carlson, 31, of Browning, Mont., said the exposure gave him permanent health problems, including difficulty sleeping.
Jurors were told that Carlson has trouble spelling his name and no longer could concentrate enough to drive a car.
The other plaintiffs are Kathrene Froese; John and Ruth Hopkins; David, Tim and Sandra Schudel; Daniel Glass; Craig Thompson; and Deborah Williams.
Defense attorney James King, of Spokane, who was involved in the successful appeal, couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Attorney Marcia Meade, also of Spokane, who represented the injured workers, also couldn’t be reached for comment. , DataTimes
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