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Jury question prompts mistrial in Copeland Scroll case.

Byline: Jessica Shumaker

A jury question about dueling standards for workplace exposure to chemicals led a Laclede County Circuit Judge to declare a mistrial in a long-running case. As a result, Philip Berger's long-running case against Copeland Scroll Compressors Corp., a Lebanon air-conditioning compressor manufacturer, will go to trial for a third time. Attorney Kenneth McClain of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain in Independence represents Berger. He said Judge Ralph H. Jaynes called a mistrial on April 4, after the jury began its deliberations. They sent out a question the judge couldn't answer, he said. McClain said the question involved a key dispute in the case: whether to apply exposure-level standards from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or the standard set by the Occupational Health Safety Administration. McClain said his client argued the NIOSH standard should apply, while Copeland Scroll said the OSHA standard should apply. He couldn't answer the question, so he declared a mistrial, McClain said. James Bennett of Dowd Bennett in St. Louis represented Copeland Scroll. He declined to comment on Jaynes' decision. The trial was the second for the parties. In the week before the trial began, Jaynes entered sanctions against the company's previous lawyers Joseph Orlet, Adam Miller and T.R. Bynum of Husch Blackwell in St. Louis, and Christopher Riordan and John Rocco of von Briesen & Roper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin due to what the judge termed discovery abuses earlier in the case. The sanctions prohibited the company from presenting its own evidence or witnesses. Jaynes did not mince words in calling out the behavior of the company's prior legal team. He said attorneys are officers of the court and bound by the code of professional responsibility. A judge looks to the attorneys to be sentinels in upholding high ethical standards while strongly advocating for their clients. Any deviation from the standards undermines the rule of law and the just administration of justice, he said. Judicial economy does not allow trial judges to hover over and babysit attorneys in the discovery process. When the case went to trial for the first time, in 2013, it resulted in a $28 million verdict the sixth-largest plaintiff's win that year as tracked by Missouri Lawyers Weekly. The verdict included $23 million in punitive damages. Two years later, Jaynes granted Copeland Scroll's motion for a new trial because of problematic jury instructions. The Southern District Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in 2016. In his suit against the company, filed in 20, Berger alleged the company knowingly and willingly exposed him to a range of toxic substances. Berger alleged he developed hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or inflammation in the lungs, after being exposed to molds, microbes and bacteria found in the fluids the plant used to cool cutting tools and surfaces. The case is Berger v. Copeland Corp., LLC et al., LA-CC00089.

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Publication:Missouri Lawyers Media
Date:Apr 23, 2018
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