Law School Case Brief
Swope v. Columbian Chems. Co. - 281 F.3d 185 (5th Cir. 2002)
Under § 1032 of the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act the words "intentional act" mean the same as "intentional tort" in reference to civil liability. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23: 1032A(1)(a). Observing that the word "intent" has generally accepted meaning in the fields of tort and criminal law, the meaning of "intent" is that the person who acts either (1) consciously desires the physical result of his act, whatever the likelihood of that result happening from his conduct; or (2) knows that that result is substantially certain to follow from his conduct, whatever his desire may be as to that result. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23: 1032B (West 1998).
Plaintiffs-appellants Claude Swope and his wife brought suit against defendants-appellees, alleging that Mr. Swope was rendered totally and permanently disabled by lung damage caused through his inhalation of ozone during his employment as a maintenance worker by defendant Columbian Chemicals Company ("Columbian"). Columbian was in the business of manufacturing carbon black with a process that involves the use of ozone. Columbian purchased and operated ozone generators manufactured by Emery Industries, Inc. ("Emery"). Defendant Henkel Corporation/Millennium Petrochemicals, Inc., ("Henkel") was Emery's successor corporation and subject to liability for harm to persons caused by Emery's defective products. Mr. Swope alleged that his lung damage resulted from hazardous characteristics of the Emery ozone generators which made them unreasonably dangerous in design and unreasonably dangerous for lack of an adequate warning of those hazards. The Swopes further alleged that Columbian knew to a substantial certainty that its continual exposures of Mr. Swope to harmful amounts of ozone without providing him with any respiratory protection would cause repeated damage to his lungs. Accordingly, the Swopes sued for damages against Henkel under allegations raising products liability theories and against Columbian for intentional torts or batteries. The district court granted motions for summary judgment by Columbian and Henkel rejecting all of the Swopes' claims.
In an intentional tort or battery action by an employee who alleged he was rendered totally and permanently disabled by lung damage caused through his inhalation of ozone during his employment as a maintenance worker, was summary judgment for defendant employer proper?
After de novo review of defendants' motions for summary judgment, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment and remanded the case. The Court held that Columbian was not entitled to summary judgment dismissing the Swopes' suit against it for damages based on intentional torts or batteries. There are genuine issues as to the material facts--and that a reasonable jury could find--that Columbian knew to a substantial certainty that it was continually causing Mr. Swope bodily harm by exposing him to dangerous amounts of ozone without providing him with any respiratory protection. The Court held that, at the very least, there was a genuine issue as to whether the employer knew to a substantial certainty that its activities would cause a physical impairment of the condition of the employee's body or cause him pain or illness. The Court also held that the manufacturer performed an obligation to give, i.e., sale of equipment, to the obligee, the employer, and the independent building contractor performed the obligation to do, i.e., installation and assembly of the generators for the obligee. Consequently, the successor corporation failed to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact that, as a matter of law, it performed an obligation to do, i.e., install or construct, rather than an obligation to give, i.e., to transfer ownership of the ozone generators to the employer.
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