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Shapiro & Appleton

St. Louis, MO Firefighter’s Widow Keeps $40 Million

A fire-safety equipment manufacturing company's appeal has been denied in the case of a firefighter whose widow received $40 million in damages from them. The announcement came on Tuesday, February 1, 2011.

In 2007, Angela Martin and her children were awarded $27 million in a judgment against Survivair Respirators Inc. and its parent company, Bacou-Dalloz. It was argued that the company had known about a defect in its product for years, and failed to warn fire departments.
The warning might have saved the life of fallen St. Louis, Missouri (MO), firefighter Derek Martin and fellow firefighter Rob Morrison. Both were killed battling a blaze in May 2002.

The firefighter was wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus and personal alert safety system. These are 2-by-4-inch battery-operated devices that rest on the left side of a firefighter's chest. The plaintiff's attorney stated that the exhalation valve on the victim's SCBA malfunctioned, preventing him from receiving proper airflow.

The attorney also got a court order to obtain e-mails showing how the company knew for years that the PASS's seal allowed water to infiltrate the electronics compartment, causing it to malfunction, and the system's alarm to fail. A dozen firefighters from as far as Washington, Alabama, Texas, Georgia and California were brought in as well: they testified that they encountered the same problems with the exhalation valve and PASS alarm, and that the company responsible failed to correct them after being notified. 

The jury verdict called the company's cover-up "unquestionably reprehensible," and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict. With interest, the award grew to $40.4 million.

Our hearts go out to the wife and family of the brave firefighter, and the loved ones of his colleague. The comments made by the jury at the time of the initial verdict say it all: this company's actions were atrocious. To know of a defect in your equipment that could lead to injury or death and do nothing about it-not even warn the fire departments the equipment is meant to protect-show lack of judgment and compassion for human life.

When a company refuses to live up to its responsibilities like this, you may have a valid product liability case on your hands. If that ever happens, contact a qualified personal injury attorney who provides a free consultation to work on your case.

IW

Richard N. Shapiro
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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