Mobile Press Register

A federal court jury awarded $2.5 million Monday to the father of a man who died while cleaning an elevator shaft here in 1984.

The jury deliberated for two hours before finding in favor of William Paul Lakeman Sr., as administrator of the estate of Donald Eugene Lakeman. The judgment was against Pittsburgh Plate Glass Industries Inc.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Alaimo form the Eastern District of Georgia presided over the weeklong trial.

Attorney Buddy Brown said Donald Lakeman was working as an elevator service man for Otis Elevator Co. at the time of his death in August 1984. Brown and Mike Worel represented Lakeman.

Brown said Lakeman, 22, was cleaning an elevator shaft at the Coastal Training Institute in Mobile when he "fell into a coma-like sleep because of vapors" from the cleaner he was using.

"In an attempt to dissolve grease and oil in the bottom of the shaft he used a cleaner, but the container had no information on it with respect to the actual chemical content (trichloroethane) of the material nor information on the particular hazards that were known to the manufacturer but not conveyed to the user," the attorney stated.

"This stuff (trichloroethane) is in thousands of products. It's used in Scotchguard as a propellent and used in thousands of other products."

"The material itself was known to the manufacturer to possess hazards," Brown said. He added there were additional hazards associated with the product, such as "it was a known narcotic, used in general surgery as a general anesthetic."

Brown said the cleaner, "when used in small amounts, released a lethal vapor, which posed an extremely hazardous environment."

Lawyers Involved: