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Steward v. Honeywell International Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

August 28, 2014

KENNETH STEWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL INC., Defendant,

Submitted: August 1, 2014

Upon Consideration of Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment on the Issue Of Punitive Damages, GRANTED

Matthew R. Fogg, Esquire, and Arthur M. Krawitz, Esquire, Doroshow Pasquale Krawitz & Bhaya, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Nicholas E. Skiles, Esquire, Mintzer Swartz Campbell LLC, Attorney for Defendant.

OPINION

VIVIAN L. MEDINILLA JUDGE

INTRODUCTION

This personal injury action arises from a chemical release from Defendant Honeywell International, Inc.'s ("Defendant") facility on July 31, 2008. Kenneth Steward, ("Plaintiff"), was exposed to dangerous amounts of BF3 (Boron Trifluoride) while employed on a neighboring property. Plaintiff seeks both compensatory and punitive damages as a result of the accident. Plaintiff's compensatory damage claim is not considered for the purposes of this motion. As to punitive damages, Plaintiff argues that his claim is warranted because Defendant's actions and inactions demonstrate a reckless indifference or conscious disregard for the rights of Plaintiff. Defendant argues entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. This Court finds that Plaintiff fails to meet his burden in establishing a genuine issue of material fact to submit to a jury that would justify an award for punitive damages. Therefore, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On July 31, 2008, approximately 60 pounds of BF3 gas, a poisonous hazardous chemical, was released from Defendant's chemical plant in Claymont, Delaware. Plaintiff was performing his employment duties as part of a railroad crew for Railroad Construction, Inc. on Epsilon's property ("Epsilon"), located across the street from Defendant's premises. The gaseous chemical cloud traveled downwind to the Epsilon property and Plaintiff alleges that the inhalation of the BF3 gas has resulted in various respiratory and pulmonary ailments.

The facts in this case indicate that Defendant took immediate action as part of its emergency response plan to address the chemical release. Specifically, Defendant used an internal radio system to contact onsite employees and activated its mobile system. A deluge system which used a water spray to mitigate the release was activated within one to two minutes following the release.[1] Defendant made telephone calls to the police (911) and neighboring properties including Sunoco, General Chemical and Sunoco Polymer, known also as Epsilon.[2]Employees of Defendant were "immediately asked . . . to isolate the roadway . . . [and] stop traffic until the police arrived."[3] However, an evacuation of the plant was not ordered. Defendant contends that an evacuation was not ordered because the people on the premises had been notified through either the plant radio or person-to-person communication, as was its normal procedure.[4]

The facts also show that Defendant employed various safety precautions prior to the release. Specifically, Defendant held monthly safety meetings and provided continuing training to both employees and visitors entering the plant. The safety orientation training provided information regarding the chemicals located on the property and appropriate responses in the event of a chemical release. Plaintiff had entered Defendant's facility "a lot" of times and had participated in safety orientations on more than one occasion.[5]

Plaintiff filed a personal injury action on July 13, 2010. The original Complaint did not contain a claim for punitive damages. Following discovery, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint to include a claim for punitive damages which was granted on August 8, 2012.[6] Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on August 9, 2012. Defendant filed this Motion (for Summary Judgment) to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims for Punitive Damages and an Opening Brief on May 9, 2014.[7] Plaintiff filed his Answering Brief on May 21, 2014. Defendant filed a Reply Brief on June 6, 2014. Oral arguments were presented on August 1, 2014.

After consideration of the written and oral arguments of the parties, the Court finds that Summary Judgment is ...


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