On Feb. 2, 2005, plaintiffs Joseph Fuller, 27, and William Schmidt, 50, two maintenance men for the Lambert Spawn mushroom farm in Coatesville, were performing a routine check of the boiler temperatures and pressures when a boiler (which was manufactured by Cleaver-Brooks Inc., of Milwaukee, Wise.) erupted.
The explosion was caused by a breach in the bottom of the blowdown piping. In an effort to keep from burning alive, the two men ran to the back of the boiler room and doused themselves with a hose. While Schmidt was able to escape the steam and boiling water, it took another 20 minutes for Fuller to be rescued. He sustained severe injuries.
Fuller and Schmidt sued Delval Equipment Corp., of King of Prussia, the firm responsible for maintaining the boiler, and Factory Mutual Insurance Co., the carrier for the plaintiffs’ employer, alleging products liability. In turn, the defendants joined as an additional defendant the company that installed the boiler, NIBCO Inc., of Elhart, Ind.
Plaintiffs’ counsel claimed the piping had been negligently maintained by Delval. Specifically, the blowdown system, which was designed to allow the purging of semi-solid debris from the boiler, lacked a slow-opening valve, thus encouraging bottom blowdowns to be performed quickly and improperly, leaving obstructions in the boiler in the process.
Also, counsel for the plaintiffs maintained that Factory Mutual was liable for negligently inspecting the boiler when it issued Fuller and Schmidt’s employer insurance coverage for the boiler.
Defense counsel asserted that the ball valve manufactured by NIBCO was a quick opening valve, which was inappropriate for the machinery.
Ankle; arm; burns; debridement; face; foot; hand; infection; leg; loss of consortium; neuropathy; skin grafts; thigh; wrist
Fuller sustained second-and third-degree burns over 45 percent of his body, including his legs, thighs, and hands. He was admitted to the burn unit for five days where he underwent skin grafts and debridements. In March 2005, Fuller underwent additional skin grafts on his calves. However, the biobrane became infected and he experienced significant pain until the infection was controlled three weeks later. In total, Fuller’s treatment continued for 2.5 years.
Schmidt suffered first- and second-degree burns to his face, forearm, wrists, hands, ankles, lower legs, and feet. He was able to return to work in February 2005, but found his tasks difficult to perform. He was subsequently diagnosed with bilateral neuropathic pain in his legs and sympathetic nerve blocks had to be administered.
The defense contended that Schmidt had preexisting diabetic neuropathy.
The parties agreed to a $3.85 million universal settlement just before trial. In a non-jury trial following the settlement, Judge Nitza Quinones Alejandro ruled that NIBCO wasn’t liable for any third-party claim against it; NIBCO, therefore, did not contribute to the settlement.