Vocational School Student Burned By Defective Oxyacetylene Torch

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Case Type(s): Other Cases, Personal Injury

Type of Injury(ies): Burns Injury, Chemical Exposure And/Or Burns

Verdicts & Settlements:

$2.2 Million Dollar Verdict


$2,148,589 Verdict – Injuries Suffered During Vo-Tech Class

Reprinted From: The National Jury Verdict Review & AnalysisState liability through Board of Secondary and Elementary Education - Bench trial - Plaintiff vo-tech student injured during welding class - Negligent supervision - Lack of necessary safety procedures -Defendants additionally alleged to be strictly liable under Article 2317 of the Louisiana Civil Code.19th Judicial District Court Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana This was an action brought by the male plaintiff vo-tech student age 21 at the time of the subject incident and age 23 at time of trial, for injuries suffered while carrying out an assignment in his welding class. The plaintiff was operating an oxy-acetylene cutting torch when sparks deflected off the table onto his shirt, igniting it. The plaintiff alleged that the State of Louisiana, through the Nunez Vocational and Technical School and its shop instructor, was negligent in the supervision of the plaintiff and failed to implement proper safety measures to prevent this type of accident. The plaintiffs additionally alleged strict liability against the defendants under Article 3217 of the Louisiana Civil Code dealing with Strict Liability. The fire caused second and third degree burns over twenty percent (20%) of his body. Keloid scarring developed, leaving unsightly ridges of scar tissue over his abdomen and chest.At the time of this injury, the plaintiff was a student at the Nunez Vocational and Technical School in Chalmette, Louisiana, the evidence indicated that at the time of the accident, the torch operated by the plaintiff was stationed on an electrical moving cart and extended out over the table to make a 45-degree cut on an iron plate. The plaintiff's expert mechanical engineer testified that the table was defective in design because it required the material being cut to be elevated by large metal plates so that the flame could reach the surface to be cut. The torch was also defective in that it constantly lost its set, it required the operator to be in front of the torch while operating it, and presented the opportunity for the operator's clothes to be saturated with oxygen, according to the plaintiff's expert.The plaintiff further alleged that the instructor was negligent in failing to require that the plaintiff wear protective clothing during the cutting process. It was during this process that the plaintiff was burned. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was 21 years of age and unemployed, but was due to complete this welding course in a very short period of time. When his clothes caught on fire, the plaintiff received no help as the shop instructor was out of the room.In addition to claims of negligence alleged by the plaintiff on the part of the school system, the plaintiff asserted a claim of strict liability under Article 2317 of the Louisiana Code which in effect provides that when an individual has custody or control of a thing which causes injury to another, then that individual is deemed to be strictly liable to the injured party. This causes the burden to shift to the defendant to show that the fault for the injury rests with either the victim or a third party.The defendant denied that the instruction and/or supervision were improper and maintained that the equipment utilized by the plaintiff was safe when properly used. The defendant contended that the plaintiff was overwhelmingly comparatively negligent in standing directly in front of the torch while performing the welding assignment. The plaintiff countered that he was not directly in front of the torch, but was off to the side when the accident occurred. The plaintiff presented corroborating factual testimony from an eyewitness. The defendant's factual contentions in this regard were based upon a general statement made by the plaintiff during deposition in which he stated that he was standing basically in front of the torch at the time the accident occurred.The medical evidence indicated than the plaintiff suffered second and third degree bums over twenty percent (20%) of his body. Especially severe were the burns on his chest, neck and arms. The plaintiff suffered unsightly keloid scarring over his abdomen. The severity of the hypertrophic scarring which developed over his chest, arms and neck requires occasional treatment with injections of corticosteroids. The plaintiff's physicians testified regarding the plaintiff's physical limitations which the plaintiff claimed disabled him from working in his chosen field of manual labor and construction due to his inability to tolerate exposure to the elements and to heat.A verdict was returned in the amount of $2,148,589.60. The award was broken down as follows: $1,500,000 in general damages; $600,000 diminished future earning capacity; $28,589.60 for past medical specials; and $20,000 future medical specials. The jury determined no comparative fault on the part of the plaintiff.REFERENCEPlaintiff expert mechanical engineer; Percy Miller from Baton Rouge, LA. Plaintiff’s vocational rehabilitation expert: Stephanie Chalfin from Baton Rouge. Plaintiff’s expert economist: Lamar Jones from Baton Rouge. Plaintiff’s treating plastic surgeon: Ann Riley from Baton Rouge.William Gourges, Jr. vs. State of Louisiana, et al. Case no. 381,148;11-29-94Attorney for plaintiff; J.J. “Jerry” McKernan of the Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys in Baton Rouge, La. And Kirby J. Guidry of Baton Rouge.COMMENTARYThis case brought against a public body, the State of Louisiana, was unique in that responsibility was placed upon the State for failing to properly supervise a student who was not a minor. The Court found that the defendant failed to provide and maintain reasonably safe premises, equipment and adequate instruction. Normally, under Louisiana Tort law, the defendant has a duty to exercise only reasonable care, however, when involving dangerous activities, the Courts can impose a greater duty of care on a defendant who creates the danger. Because of the dangerous activity involved, oxy­acetylene cutting, the Court found the State had a greater duty to supervise and instruct than under normal conditions. The verdict was also significant as over $500,000 of the award was for loss of future earnings even though the young man was not employed at the time of the accident, but arguably had the ability to work and earn up to $12.00 an hour had he not been injured.