Missouri Utility Plans Appeal of $10.7M Award in Worker’s Lawsuit

By JIM SUHR | February 2, 2017

A Missouri-based utility said Tuesday it will appeal a state judge’s award of more than $10 million to a worker who said he developed permanent respiratory issues while as a mechanic at one of the company’s sites.

Circuit Judge William Hass in west-central Missouri’s Henry County ruled last week in favor of James Philpott, concluding Kansas City Power & Light showed “complete indifference” to safety matters leading to Philpott’s one-the-job development of a form of asthma. Hass called the company’s conduct “more than simple negligence” and “openly hostile to recognizing health hazards.”

Philpott alleged that as a mechanic at KCP&L’s coal-fired Montrose Station plant in his hometown of Clinton, he developed asthma from gases that seeped from a system in which molten sulfur is pumped from a storage tank to burner houses, creating sulfur dioxide. That gas then was passed through a catalyst to make sulfur trioxide, another respiratory irritant.

The system was taken out of service in 2014, and KCP&L provided Philpott – a worker at the plant since 1987 – with an air-purifying respirator the next year.

Philpott’s attorneys argued that KCP&L failed to provide him with respiratory protection during repairs and offered no formal training until 2013 – after his asthma diagnosis – about the hazards of sulfur and related compounds to which Philpott was exposed.

Hass, who heard testimony on the matter last August and September in Kansas City, awarded Philpott nearly $5.4 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Philpott’s wife was granted $300,000 in compensation.

“While it is difficult to pinpoint a single actor as the source,” Hass wrote in his 54-page ruling, “KCP&L exhibited an overall pattern of conduct demonstrating complete indifference and conscious disregard for safety of its employees, which includes but is not limited to the following evidence adduced at trial.”

KCP&L, in a statement Tuesday, said it disagrees with Hass’ findings, “both as a matter of law and on the facts,” and will appeal. Citing that pending litigation, the utility declined additional comment.

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