June 2012 Archives

June 29, 2012

A Burn Survivor Finds Hope and Happiness from People Who Helped Him Recover

The following is a first-hand account of a survivor of severe burns, as told to CNN.com. This story should give hope to all victims of severe burns that they can overcome their injuries, and lead a productive and happy life.

"I came to America as a transfer student in the fall of 2004. I did three years of computer engineering in India and then transferred to Purdue University Calumet. On July 2, 2005, just a month before graduation, a man who lived on the first floor of my apartment building set fire to his own apartment deliberately.

The fire started at 4:30 a.m. My roommate and I could not jump out, because the balcony and windows were engulfed in flames. As my roommate fell unconscious in front of me, I started running down the stairs but I also passed out from smoke inhalation. A firefighter found my body a few minutes later and pulled me out of the building.

As the paramedics were taking me to the hospital, I heard one of them say, 'This guy is 95 percent burned--he doesn't have a chance to survive.' At that moment, I thought about my family and how I came to America to get good education, and now I didn't have a chance to live. I was soon unconscious again, and I woke up later in the University of Chicago burn unit--four months later, because they had me in an induced coma for all that time.

The man's wife, his baby and my roommate all died in the fire. After seven months in Chicago, I was transferred to Wishard Health Services in Indianapolis for my rehabilitation. I don't have any family in America so I lived in a nursing home. I stayed there for over two years while I went through reconstructive surgeries to regain range of motion in my arms.

For more than five years, I went through an intense therapy program. I wore a face mask for three years and pressure garments on my entire body; I wore dynamic splints on my hands, wrists and elbows to increase range of motion, endured daily dressing changes on my wounds, and performed painful exercises to restore function in all of my joints.

I wanted to get a business degree so I studied in my extra time. I scheduled my final exam and got a six-hour pass to leave the nursing home to take the test. I scored well on the test and was accepted into the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis. I chose the part-time program because I didn't know how much I would be able to handle.

My doctors did everything they could to help me regain range of motion in my arms. Even after 54 surgeries, I am still very limited. I don't have any finger movement in my left hand and limited finger movement in my right hand. I type with one finger. I rely on various adaptive equipment to perform the activities of daily living.

I have not seen most of my family in India since the accident seven years ago, because I am still waiting for a U.S. green card. My sister has been denied a visa four times in trying to visit me.

I have been able to come out of this tragedy because of the values that my parents instilled in me and the help from my occupational therapist. My parents taught me the value of education, hard work and perseverance. They taught me to be happy in life no matter what the circumstances. They taught me that "we can always find someone who is in worse condition than we are in. So be thankful for what you have."

I call my occupational therapist 'my guardian angel.' God sent her into my life when I was in the deepest and darkest pit of my life. She took me to church every Sunday while I was in the nursing home, which brought some normalcy into my life. Today, I can live independently because of her hard work.

After three years, I graduated with my degree in May 2012. I am now seeking a job in finance. To give back to the community, I volunteered in the Wishard Burn Unit's therapy department between many of my surgeries. I still visit the Wishard Burn Unit in Indianapolis and talk to other burn patients about my experience. I also lecture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to occupational therapy students about all the adaptive equipment I use to live independently.

I have had some wonderful people in my life who have helped me in my journey. I plan to do the same for other people who have suffered severe burns.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

June 26, 2012

Customer Suffers Severe Burns in Fast Food Restaurant Accident and Files Lawsuit. Is There Legal Liability?

In late May, a man in Aurora, CO filed a lawsuit against Arby's restaurants after he said he suffered severe burns from steam or very hot water that sprayed from a urinal in the men's room at a local restaurant. The incident allegedly happened two years ago at the Arby's in Monument, CO, but the man filed the lawsuit just recently.

Kenneth Dejoie claims his genitals suffered severe burns while he was using a urinal inside the Arby's men's room. The five-page lawsuit was filed in El Paso County District Court, and states that Dejoie was "using the urinal in the men's restroom when the urinal caused a jet of steam to shoot forth and burn his genitals."

Dejoie claims that he reported the incident to an employee who said, "we have that bathroom problem again" and that "this happens when the sink in the kitchen is running."

Dejoie's lawyers said that he's trying to settle the case with Arby's outside of court and couldn't comment further. The lawsuit is seeking damages for financial losses and for not being able to have intimate relations with his wife.

The store's manager hadn't heard about the lawsuit when asked about it. A spokesperson for Arby's issued a statement saying, "We want to reassure our customers that we are committed to providing quality food in a safe and healthy environment. Since this matter is in litigation we've been advised by our attorney that we are unable to discuss it."

Dejoie's lawyer did not specify exactly how much they're hoping to settle for, or why it took two years for them to file the suit.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

June 22, 2012

Fuel-Tank Fires in Jeep Vehicles Being Investigated; Will There Be Liability for Injury or Death?


More than five million Jeep vehicles are being investigated by the federal government for deadly fuel-tank fires caused by rear-impact collisions.

Fuel-tank ruptures and fires during crashes have resulted in 48 fatalities in the Jeep Grand Cherokee model since 1993, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, to this point neither the federal government nor Chrysler has announced a recall for specific model years.

And this week, the NHTSA expanded its investigation to include Jeep Cherokees from model years 1993 to 2001 and Jeep Liberty models from 2002 to 2007.

Federal investigators initially looked into the Jeep Grand Cherokee following complaints by the Center for Auto Safety. The fuel tank of the 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee is made of plastic and extends below the rear bumper "so there is nothing to protect the tank from direct hit" in a rollover or rear-end collision, the watchdog group said in a letter sent to NHTSA.

"Chrysler Group has concluded that 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles are neither defective nor do their fuel systems pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety in rear impact collisions," responded Chrysler in a written statement.

The company estimates that two million of the affected vehicles are still on the road. "We still feel confident these vehicles are safe. They have really good safety records," said a Chrysler spokesperson. "We feel really confident, and we'll work cooperatively with NHTSA." The investigation could take a year to complete, possibly longer if it becomes complex, the NHTSA said.

In 2005 and later models, Chrysler moved the gas tank of the Jeep Grand Cherokee from behind the rear axle to the middle of the vehicle. A Chrysler spokesperson said that Chrysler made the move to allow for more cargo space, not due to safety concerns. However, since that change, there has been only one fatal fire crash in the redesigned vehicle, according to the Center for Auto Safety.

So it remains to be seen if this evidence of many more deaths and injuries before the design change will result in liability lawsuits from those involved in accidents in the earlier Jeep models.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

June 19, 2012

Long Island Fire at Apartment Complex Causes Smoke Inhalation for Many, but No Severe Burns

In mid June, hundreds of frightened residents were evacuated from a multi-story apartment building when smoke filled their apartments from a simple stove fire that grew out of control. The fire spread so quickly that flames leaped up three floors of the large building in the town of Hempstead, N.Y.

Witnesses recalled seeing residents of the Fulton Manor apartment building with their heads out open windows, screaming for help, before firefighters came to their aid in high-rise ladder buckets. The firefighters pulled more than a dozen people out of their windows to safety. Some of the residents were becoming so overcome by smoke that they were yelling that they were going to jump from their windows.

About 30 people were treated at hospitals for smoke inhalation after they were evacuated from the seven-story building. The cause of the fire was a stove malfunction in an apartment on the second floor. The fire spread quickly to the walls of that apartment, and created a lot of smoke containing deadly carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.

The risk of death from smoke inhalation was higher for the residents on the floors above a fire, because smoke always rises. Because of this, people who are evacuating a fire should crawl or somehow get their faces as close to the floor as possible, because that is where the only breathable air is located in a smoky room. One or two breaths of smoke is enough to make a person unconscious, and unable to escape a fire.

The fire started around 6:20 p.m. and was contained around 8 p.m. Two firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion. More than 300 firefighters from 30 volunteer departments were at the scene. Four Nassau County buses shuttled about 100 evacuees to a temporary shelter.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

June 15, 2012

Settlement Reached for Work Related Injuries Suffered in Plant Explosion

In early June, a federal jury in St. Louis awarded $180 million to three men who suffered blast injuries and severe burns while working in a Chester, IL grain bin that exploded in 2010.

One of the men, John Jentz of St. Peter, MN clearly remembers the explosion at the ConAgra grain bin: "I heard the bang. I heard the rushing of the air, and the fireball," he said. Jentz's co-worker, Robert Schmidt, was riding down a single-lift hoist when the explosion occurred. "It was probably the third boom when I realized that an explosion was happening, and I just froze--I knelt down and started praying," Schmidt said. "I thought, 'This is it, I am going to die.'"

Chicago attorney Robert Clifford, who represented Jentz and Schmidt, said there had been signs of trouble in the grain bin before the explosion, such as temperature readings of up to 400 degrees. Clifford asserted that grain bin operators ignored safety problems because they were trying to maximize use of the product. "It was either because they didn't want to close down the facility, or they were trying to save the product that they were trying to extract so that they could resell it," he said.

Another attorney said that ConAgra even rejected calls from fire inspectors before the explosion. Mark Taxman, representing Jason Becker, the third victim, said that those in charge failed in their duty. "This case was about folks at the top of the chain of command, who have the power to make decisions about safety, failing to make those decisions - not for two or three or five hours, but actually for five weeks. Then this horrible incident happened that essentially ruined the lives of these three young men."

Clifford said the jury awarded the three victims $100 million in punitive damages to send a safety message to ConAgra, an agribusiness giant. Individually, Jentz received $41 million in compensatory damages and $34 million in punitive damages. He required multiple burn surgeries over many months; he can no longer work outside in the sun, nor inside at a keyboard. He has nerve damage, and has trouble walking.

Schmidt received $3 million in compensatory and $33 million punitive damages for burns to his hands and head. Becker received $33 million in punitive damages.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

June 12, 2012

Are Workers Being Killed in Preventable Workplace Accidents?

In the past several years, small fires were actually common at Hoeganaes Corporation's metal powder plant outside Nashville. By early 2011, some workers had become good at beating down flames with gloved hands or a fire extinguisher.

The company's own product fueled the fires: Scrap metal comes into the plant and is melted, atomized and dried into a fine iron powder that is sold to makers of car parts. But often, powder leaked from equipment and settled on ledges and rafters. One worker said he could hear the popping sound of dust sparking when it touched live electricity.

In the early morning of January 31, 2011, a worker was called to check out a malfunctioning bucket elevator that moves dust through the plant. Near his feet, electrical wires lay exposed. When the machine restarted, the jolt knocked dust into the air. A spark -- likely from the exposed wires -- turned the dust cloud into a ball of flame that engulfed the worker. He suffered severe burns over 95 percent of his body, and lived just two more days at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center's burn unit before dying.

The flash fire involved combustible dust -- a little-noticed danger that has killed or injured at least 900 workers across the country during the past 30 years. The dust can be created by iron, plastic, wood, nylon fiber, coal, and even sugar and flour. Often, workers don't know that the dust sitting on flat surfaces could, when kicked up in a cloud, create a large flash fire.

But experts, worker safety advocates and government officials have been sounding alarms for years. Since 1980, more than 450 accidents involving dust explosions or fires have killed nearly 130 workers and injured another 800-plus, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data compiled by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB). Both agencies, citing spotty reporting requirements, say these numbers are probably significant understatements.

Yet a push to issue a rule protecting workers from the danger has stalled due to bureaucratic hurdles, industry resistance, and politics. OSHA, in a statement, said it must "make difficult decisions as to how to best allocate the agency's limited rulemaking resources." While addressing dangers like combustible dust and dangerous substances breathed by workers are important, OSHA said, it "has placed a great deal of emphasis on broad rulemaking efforts that have the potential to result in fundamental changes [for] safety and health in the workplace."

"It goes along for years [at workplaces] with the dust building up, building up, and everything's fine--nobody's harmed, so nobody thinks anything about it," said Sandra Bennett, an official at the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigated the Hoeganaes accidents. "All of a sudden, one day, boom."

In 2009, OSHA announced it was starting the process of issuing a rule to address combustible dust. But three years later, the process is still stuck in its early stages, and OSHA has given up on making significant progress this year, moving the topic to its list of "long-term actions." In a statement, OSHA said, "Prevention of worker injuries and fatalities from combustible dust remains a priority for the agency." But, the statement said, developing the rule is "very complex," and "could affect a wide variety of industries and workplace conditions. As a result it has been moved to long-term action to give the agency time to develop the analyses needed to support a cost-effective rule."

Last year was not the first time Hoeganaes had experienced a worker death from iron dust. The recent accident in particular had striking similarities to one that occurred in 1992 at the company's plant in Riverton, NJ, said the CSB's lead investigator, Johnnie Banks.

Twenty years later, Jeffrey Richardson remembers that accident well. It left him with third-degree burns covering 97 percent of his body. He has one ear and one hand, though it has no fingers. His body is covered with skin grown in a lab; it heals slowly and tears easily.

"They said my foot and my eyelids were the only place where I wasn't burned," he recalled recently. "I still to this day have a nurse come every day to dress wounds that I still have ongoing."

As in the May 2011 accident, a hydrogen explosion shook the building, and burning dust fell from the rafters. Richardson recalls it covering him as he struggled to find an escape route. "I could hear it sizzling and cracking," he said.

Many plants already are required to follow rules addressing combustible dust. Many experts praise the standards, and OSHA often points to them as widely recognized practices when citing violations. But two problems limit the standards' reach: They are optional in many areas, and, where they apply, enforcement is often lax or nonexistent, and many inspectors don't even recognize a dust problem when it does exist. Recognizing dangers that could lead to dust fires and explosions also can be a problem for companies and their insurers. In investigations of four dust explosions that killed 28 workers, insurers had missed serious dust hazards during audits in each case.

In August 2010, Hoeganaes hired a company to clean up the dust, according to a report by the state inspector examining the January 2011 accident. But, the report notes, "it was apparent that the employer was not ensuring that clean-up was maintained through good housekeeping practices between these cleanings." Piles of dust up to four inches thick sat on equipment throughout the plant, the inspector found.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

June 8, 2012

Man Suffers Severe Burns from Homemade Barbecue Pit

In Waldorf, Maryland last week, local doctors came to the aid of a man who accidentally set himself on fire while trying to light a homemade barbecue pit.

The man was treated for first degree burns and second degree burns across nearly 50 percent of his body. Authorities say the man was burned when vapors from the flammable liquid he had poured over the wood inside a 270-gallon barrel ignited, and caused a flash fire.

Luckily, the man was able to drive himself to a local hospital, but he was later transferred to the burn unit at Washington Hospital Center. However, if there had been other people around him when the fire took place, they could have suffered severe burns to their skin or lungs as well. In such a case, it is likely that the man would have faced a liability lawsuit due to negligence in creating a grill from a barrel that is not intended for such use.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

June 5, 2012

Smoke Inhalation Occurs at Factory Where Industrial Batteries Overheated and Leaked

In eastern Pennsylvania last week, a machine battery at a production plant overheated and ruptured, and then began leaking acid onto other batteries that were nearby. This caused the other batteries to melt and release poisonous smoke that filled the entire building.

Although all employees evacuated safely, a number of them later in that week experienced breathing problems, coughing, headaches and other illness. Doctors who treated these employees said that in most cases, the lungs and throat are mildly inflamed from the smoke inhalation (the smoke contains hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide in it, both of which are potentially deadly in humans). The doctors' suggested remedy: Drink lots of water and take Advil or another ibuprofen product to reduce the inflammation in the body. It was fortunate that no employees touched the leaking batteries, as it is very easy to suffer third degree burns from battery acid.

Although there will probably not be a lawsuit filed against the company for legal liability due to negligence--batteries do sometimes overheat and leak--this story is a good reminder for anyone who work in an industrial facility: make sure the facility has working smoke detectors, and also know where the emergency exits are so you can escape quickly even if visibility is bad due to a smoke condition. Also, be sure to get your face down to the floor in order to avoid smoke inhalation--when there is smoke or fire, the cleanest air to breathe is down at floor level.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.