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 SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Oct. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- J.D. Ledbetter, shareholder with the Southfield law firm of Sommers, Schwartz, Silver & Schwartz, P.C., has won, what the firm believes to be, the largest verdict ever awarded by an Alpena Circuit Court jury. The award for over $2 million was handed down Wednesday, Oct. 14, in a negligence and product liability case involving a 49-year-old Alpena man who was blinded in a workplace explosion.
 The verdict for Alden Kirschner against Process Design Associates, Inc., of Chicago, exceeds $2.16 million. The award will probably approach $2.9 million with interest, court costs and legal fees.
 The trial was heard by Judge John Kowalski. It began Sept. 29 and went to the jury on Oct. 13. A verdict was returned the following day. Ledbetter has practiced with Sommers, Schwartz, Silver & Schwartz for 10 years specializing in product liability cases.
 The case involved an industrial injury sustained by Kirschner in 1987 while he was employed by Abitibi Price Corporation (NYSE: ABY) in Alpena. Abitibi Price makes decorative panels for kitchens and baths. Kirschner, who normally worked as a fabricator, was reassigned to work in the manufacturing area on the date of the incident, Sept. 19, 1987.
 On that day, Kirschner was working with a tank that contained 4,000 gallons of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). The mixture in the tanks was used for cleaning equipment. An eruption occurred, due to what Ledbetter maintained was from design defects in the system, and Kirschner was drenched in the caustic soda, which had reached a temperature of 330 degrees. He was permanently blinded and suffered chemical burns over 40 percent of his body.
 "We proved to the jury that there were a number of design defects in the system, designed and engineered by Process Design Associates, Inc., that contributed to and caused the accident," said Ledbetter. Shortly after the accident, Abitibi Price made modifications to eliminate many of the defects.
 "This was a case of an employee who had minimal training and experience on this particular job, coupled with the fact that he was working with a poorly designed system. That combination resulted in a tragedy," he said.
 The employer, Abitibi Price, was not named as a defendant in this matter because Michigan law provides that the "exclusive remedy" available to an employee injured in the course of their employment is to obtain workers' compensation benefits.
 While Kirschner was working with the tank of caustic soda, an abnormal amount of heat was applied to the tank, causing a "boiling down" (evaporation) which produced a highly concentrated, super-heated solution that reached a temperature of 330 degrees.
 Normal procedure was to add water to bring the mixture back up to the desired level in the tank. But the water was lighter than the mixture so it simply lay on the top of the solution. Kirschner then turned off the water in the tank. The last process was to add air to provide gentle agitation to the mixture.
 What resulted was an exothermic reaction, a heat-creating vapor explosion, that threw nearly 800 gallons of the hot caustic sodium hydroxide onto Kirschner. He was the only one injured in the accident, though other employees say the explosion propelled the caustic soda as far as 20 feet away.
 Ledbetter cited several defects in the system that should have been identified and eliminated or at least safeguarded to avoid such an accident.
 Ledbetter said, "There was a thermostat to control the temperature of the steam that was heating the tank. But the design incorporated a bypass valve that allowed for the maximum amount of steam to heat the tank -- the bypass valve eliminated the thermostat's job of regulating the heat. There was also no device to warn operators the tank was overheating.
 "Another defect we identified was there could have been an interlocking system or a 'holding tank' incorporated into the system which would have eliminated or minimized the potential exposure of workers to the caustic soda solution.
 "The design of this tank system was essentially similar to a bomb. All it needed was the foreseeable set of circumstances coming together, and a source of detonation. Alden Kirschner was an innocent guy who unknowingly supplied the detonation by simply turning on an air valve," Ledbetter added.
 -0- 10/16/92
 /NOTE: (Feature story possibility) Kirschner now uses a leader dog and does volunteer work for the Alpena Coast Guard Auxiliary. His wife Naomi resigned from her job with the Michigan Department of Social Services in 1988 to care for her husband. They have two adult children.
 CONTACT: Nikki Grandberry of Simons Michelson Zieve, 313-362-4242, for Sommers, Schwartz, Silver & Schwartz/
 (ABY) CO: Sommers, Schwartz, Silver & Schwartz; Abitibi Price Corporation;
 Process Design Associates, Inc. ST: Michigan, Illinois IN: SU:

KE-DH -- DE022 -- 1016 10/16/92 14:12 EDT
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Date:Oct 16, 1992

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