Eastern Arkansas First Responders Receive $ 75 Million In Damages After Exposure To Toxic Chemicals

At approximately 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in April 2018, first responders arrived at the scene of an accident between a pickup truck and a semi-trailer platform on the US 70 in St. Francis County. .

The pickup had crossed the center line, forcing the truck to swerve. The truck, which was carrying approximately 20,000 pounds of cargo, then overturned and caught fire. The driver of the pickup did not survive.

Law enforcement officers, firefighters and employees of a local towing company were concerned about the fire and what the truck was carrying, but saw no signage indicating hazardous materials, and the driver The truck told first responders that he was not aware of any such equipment on board.

A jury awarded six of those first responders $ 75 million on Wednesday in St. Francis County Circuit Court after their attorneys showed Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., the North Carolina-based company that owned the truck. , did not immediately inform responders that the platform was carrying formic acid, a combustible liquid used to dye textiles, paper and make other chemicals.

Those who arrived unknowingly inhaled poisonous smoke for hours.

Plaintiffs and lawyers have said they hope the case will raise awareness of the importance of protecting first responders who are the first line of defense in such situations and must be informed immediately of any type of chemicals that could harm. permanently to their health or cause life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer.

When formic acid burns, it releases toxic fumes. Those at the crash site were exposed to these gases for hours without knowing it, later learning when they arrived at the hospital, complaining of headaches and burning sensations in the nasal passages and throat they had inhaled toxic fumes, according to court documents. .

“Because the formic acid was exposed to the wreckage fire and vaporized for more than four hours, the plaintiffs unknowingly inhaled the toxic formic acid,” said the lawsuit, filed on July 31. 2020.

Old Dominion, one of the largest freight companies in the United States, did not notify law enforcement of the presence of formic acid until hours after the accident, according to court documents.

“After more than four to five hours of exposure to the chemical spray, authorities finally received an email from the Old Dominion security official saying that in fact there was some hazardous material,” they said. indicated court documents.

The documents say Arkansas State Police received an email saying the truck was carrying formic acid at 8:51 p.m. on April 20, 2018, nearly six hours after the crash. There were between 500 and 600 pounds of the chemical in the trailer, according to the documents.

Old Dominion did not respond to messages seeking comment on Friday.

Court documents indicated that lawyers for Old Dominion argued that no one asked what the tractor-trailer was carrying that day. The plaintiffs’ lawyers presented evidence to the contrary.

Federal regulations state that trucks have signage and other types of safety standards in place depending on the types and quantities of hazardous materials being transported. Laws require carriers to immediately notify law enforcement in the event of an accident if there are dangerous chemicals in the trucks.

“Because Old Dominion intentionally and recklessly withheld the hazardous materials in its trailer from the community and authorities, the plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer life-changing damage,” including permanent lung damage, according to the court documents.

“I have permanent lung damage, permanent airway damage and sometimes I have trouble breathing,” said Frank McMillion, 51, an Arkansas State Police sergeant, who responded to accident and was there for at least five hours. “I’m getting tired a lot. I have to change a lot of the ways I used to do things.”

The jury of nine women and three men awarded McMillion, the main plaintiff in the trial, which began on December 6, $ 25 million. The remaining $ 50 million is to be divided among the other five plaintiffs – a volunteer firefighter, a corporal from the St. Francis County Sheriff’s Office and employees of White Motor Co. Towing and Recovery Service.

Deliberations in the case lasted less than three hours.

McMillion said he hopes the lawsuit and jury award will pressure Old Dominion and similar businesses to meet safety standards to protect first responders, especially those in small towns and rural areas. which are not equipped to handle hazardous materials.

“Here in eastern Arkansas, it’s rural. The majority of fire departments are voluntary, so they are not funded for this and are not equipped for this type of situation, ”said McMillion. “Do we need to call a hazardous materials company or some type of company suited for that that has the equipment, the coveralls, the respiratory modulators?

“They are trained to deal with this. We know what to do about the evacuation,” McMillion said. “We are not trained to deal with it when it comes to cleaning, storing or collecting anything [hazardous]. “

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