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APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS $2.5 MILLION JUDGMENT

May 24, 1991

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has upheld a federal court jury’s $2.5 million judgment in favor of the estate of a Mobile man who died from vapors while he was cleaning an elevator shaft in 1984.

The appeals court upheld the Mobile jury’s $2.5 million award in favor of William Paul Lakeman Sr., as administrator of the estate of Donald Eugene Lakeman. The judgment was against PPG Industries, which manufactured a cleaner solvent containing “the narcotic substance 1,1,1-trichloroethane.”

MOBILE ATTORNEY Buddy Brown who represented the plaintiff, said Donald Lakeman was working as an elevator service man for Otis Elevator Co. at the time of his death during August 1984.

Brown said the victim, who was 22, was cleaning an elevator pit at the Coastal Training Institute in Mobile when he “fell into a coma-like sleep because of vapors” from the cleaner he was using. Brown said the victim died of asphyxiation.

The Mobile jury returned its verdict on Feb. 19, 1990.

THE APPEALS court determined, Brown said, it was “undisputed that vapors from 1,1,1-trichloroethane are deadly and the substance has well-known properties which make the chemical inherently dangerous. Among the properties noted by the court as affecting the level of danger posed by the chemical was its extreme volatility,” Brown said, “meaning that a very small amount of the chemical can produce lethal concentrations of the vapor in a confined space.”

Further, Brown said, “The court found that, in spite of the manufacturer’s knowledge and familiarity with all of the dangerous propensities of its chemical compound, the manufacturer, through the label, ‘certainly did not warn the user of trichloroethane’s most dangerous properties, nor did it warn that the chemical could be lethal.’”

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