Court Roundup


Jury awards plant worker $28M for lung damage 
LEBANON, Mo. (AP) — A Laclede County jury has ordered a Missouri company to pay $28 million to a worker who claimed his lungs were damaged at a compressor plant in south-central Missouri.
In the lawsuit, Philip Berger, 56, claimed he developed inflammation of the lung after breathing contaminants from a chemical used to cool cutting tools at Copeland Scroll Compressors, a firm owned by Ferguson-based Emerson Climate Technologies. Emerson plans to appeal the verdict.
Berger’s lawyer, Kenneth McClain, said Berger began coughing severely after a ventilator failed and a vapor cloud filled the area where he worked. He was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, caused by exposure to mold and bacteria found in the fluid.
McClain accused the company of knowing the dangers of working with the fluid and failing to warn employees or provide safety training. McClain said the company used Berger as a “blue-collar guinea pig.”
The trial in Laclede County Circuit Court lasted two weeks, McClain said. The jury deliberated two hours on Friday before awarding $5 million in actual damages and $23 million in punitive damages.
A lawyer for Copeland, Joseph Orlet, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an email that the plant is a “very safe work environment,” and that management follows chemical safety standards.
“Despite Mr. Berger’s claim that he had suffered permanent lung damage, he continued to work for Copeland until the trial with no change in duties,” Orlet said.
“This included strenuous activity and 200 to 300 hours of overtime every year. Also, he rode his bicycle two miles each way to and from work three times a week, spent the last four years as a drummer in a rock band and personally remodeled his house last month. None of this seems consistent with the disability he claimed,” Orlet said.
Fed. prosecutors appeal acquittal in child porn case 
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Federal prosecutors are asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to order a new trial for a Mississippi man acquitted on child pornography charges.
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments on Dec. 4 in New Orleans.
In 2012, James William Smith sought a new trial in a child pornography case arguing that the court made numerous errors. Instead, U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen, Miss., threw out the conviction and acquitted James William Smith of the charges.
Smith had been convicted of one count of possessing child pornography.
In asking for a new trial, Smith claimed the court made numerous mistakes, like allowing prosecutors to remove two blacks from the jury pool and allegedly allowing improper jury instructions.
The indictment in the case said Smith had movies of child porn on his work computer in Tupelo in 2011.
In her ruling, Aycock said the government failed to prove Smith knew the images were on the computer. She said evidence showed Smith and another person who had access to the computer were not at work when the government said the images were downloaded.
Aycock said trial testimony also revealed that Smith often left the computer logged in under his own username when no one was using the computer.
The government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Smith knowingly possessed the illegal materials found on his computer, Aycock said, adding it is just as likely that the other person downloaded the child pornography onto the computer, as Smith did.
Smith faced up to 10 years in prison upon conviction.
In its appeal to the 5th Circuit, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Roberts asked for the jury verdict to be reinstated and the case sent back to Aycock for sentencing.
“Smith’s fanciful deconstruction of the evidence ignores the role of the jury as fact finder and encourages this court to be a ‘super fact finder,’ rejecting the jury’s verdict. The District Court improperly engaged in this foray ... and this court should correct the District Court’s error,” Roberts wrote.