Wearing an employer-designated work uniform shouldn’t result in severe and debilitating occupational exposures. Unfortunately, some American Airlines flight attendants suffered injuries from wearing the flight uniforms prescribed by their employer. The lawsuit that they filed lawsuit resulted in a $1.1 Million award.
AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT ATTENDANTS
An Alameda Superior Court jury found the manufacturer of American Airlines’ uniforms responsible for causing debilitating illnesses to four of the airline’s flight attendants, setting the stage for hundreds more cases filed by employees against the company.
While workers’ compensation benefits may have been a primary recovery for damages, historically, they are insufficient to compensate victims. Workers’ compensation is a statutory remedy based on capped awards calculated on the wages in effect at the time of the exposure. A civil action offers the opportunity to obtain compensatory and punitive damages that could far exceed workers’ compensation benefits.
The four flight attendants became ill after wearing uniforms contaminated with formaldehyde. In the bellwether trial, which lasted approximately five weeks, Plaintiffs’ attorneys selected two plaintiffs from the pool of 425, and defense attorneys picked two cases for trial. The jury awarded the plaintiffs-selected flight attendants nearly $1,100,000 and the defense-selected flight attendants $15,000.
Twin Hill, a/k/a Tailored Brands, the uniforms’ manufacturer, shipped approximately 150 thousand uniforms to the flight attendants. Shortly after introducing these uniforms, many employees began experiencing various health problems, including rashes, hives, respiratory problems, headaches, and throat irritations. Some American employees say they’ve experienced permanent chemical sensitivities due to wearing the uniforms.
The trial centered on allegations that the fabric used in American Airlines’ uniforms posed an unreasonable risk of physical harm to those who wore them. “This verdict is a resounding victory, not only for these four brave flight attendants but for every American Airlines employee forced to wear these dangerous uniforms,” said lead trial attorney Daniel Balaban. “I hope this jury’s verdict sends a message to uniform manufacturers and employers that cutting costs at the expense of safety is bad for workers, bad for customers, and bad for their bottom line.”
The lawsuit was filed in September of 2017 and contended that the fabric used in the uniforms was dangerously defective by creating an unreasonable risk of physical harm to those who wear them and those who are exposed to them. The complaint also stated that the manufacturer failed to warn consumers about the dangers associated with wearing these garments. The chemicals detected in the fabric include formaldehyde, pentachlorophenol,
monochlorophenols, tetrachlorophenols, trichlorophenols, toluene, cobalt, cadmium, captafol, chromium, copper, nickel, antimony, benzyl benzoate, hexylcinnamic aldehyde and benzaldehyde. Several of these substances are known to cause dermatological, respiratory, neurologic, and allergenic/immunological conditions.
CONTACT DERMATITIS / CANCER
Allergic contact dermatitis is a major health issue for some people. The US General Accounting Office reported, “The potential health risks associated with formaldehyde vary, depending largely on the means of exposure (e.g., inhalation or dermal contact), the concentration of the formaldehyde, and the duration of exposure. Inhaled formaldehyde may cause such effects as nausea, exacerbation of asthma, and cellular changes that may lead to the development of tumors.”
OSHA has published a Substance Technical Guidelines for Formalin. For skin contact, OSHA recommends, “Wash the affected area of your body with soap or mild detergent and large amounts of water until no evidence of the chemical remains (at least 15 to 20 minutes). If there are chemical burns, get first aid to cover the area with sterile, dry dressing and bandages. Get medical attention if you experience appreciable eye or respiratory irritation.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, named formaldehyde a known human carcinogen.
WORK UNIFORMS - “TECH CLOTHING”
The “tech clothing” Industry has increased the marketing of non-cotton manufactured clothing in the US. Formaldehyde levels in clothing, commonly used for wrinkle resistance, are not regulated, and that data is publicly unavailable.
POTENTIAL FOR EMERGING CLAIMS
In the past, workers’ compensation occupational exposure claims have given rise to massive waves of third-party litigation. While the primary recovery may be the employer/workers’ compensation insurance company, the secondary claim would be against the ultimate wrongdoers, the manufacturers and suppliers of the product or toxic substance.
What might appear as inconsequential and quickly resolving contact dermatitis claims may morph into systemic allergic, sensitive claims similar to the flood of past latex allergy claims flowing from the universal mandate to use latex powdered examination gloves by health care workers. Additionally, these exposures may also evolve into severe and complex occupational cancer claims that would emerge after significant latency periods. The verdict in the American Airlines flight attendants highlights another potential emerging wave in the workers’ compensation system.
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne, NJ, is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over five decades, the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 email@example.com has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
Blog: Workers ' Compensation
LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group
Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters
Recommended Citation: Gelman, Jon L., Toxic Flight Attendant Uniforms Result in a $1.1 Million Verdict, www.gelmans.com (11/08/2023), https://workers-compensation.blogspot.com/2023/11/toxic-flight-attendant-uniforms-result.html