Olin blamed for worker's asphyxiation death

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 15, 2005, 10:41am

The wife of a Highland man who was killed while working at Olin Brass Works in East Alton filed a four-count lawsuit against the company and a supervisor, Steven Heiens, in Madison County Circuit Court March 15.

Michelle Kuczka claims her husband, Paul, breathed compressed nitrogen gas that flowed from a piping system to the air respirator he was told to wear by Heiens, and died as a result on July 1, 2003.

She is seeking more than $150,000 under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act and additional compensatory damages.

“Olin has admitted that the piping system to which that supplied air respirator system was connected on July 1, 2003, was an unmarked piping system that carried compressed nitrogen,” the complaint states.

Kuczka is represented by Julia Gwinn and Richard Lageson of St. Louis. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge George Moran.

Paul Kuczka was a sheet metal worker who was independently contracted by Olin Brass Works for repairs and welding projects.

According to the complaint, after Kuczka put on the respirator, Heiens allowed him to re-enter a "permit required" pit area where he had been working.

"Heiens noticed Paul collapsed and was lying prone on the floor of the tank area," according to the suit.

Michelle Kuczka claims that during rescue attempts, Olin’s retrieval system failed and interfered with attempts by others to save him.

Kuczka claims that Olin and Heiens breached their duty to exercise reasonable care to protect Paul from danger, failed to mark or identify the content of the piping system that carried nitrogen, and failed to test the source to the supplied air respirator.

As a result of Paul’s death at Olin, Kuczka claims she and her two minor children have suffered great losses of a personal and pecuniary nature including the loss of love, comfort, companionship, society, money, benefits, instruction, moral training, support, services and education of Paul, subjecting Olin and Heiens to liability.

Olin’s alleged negligent acts has resulted in her husband's lost wages and earnings, the suit states. "And his ability to earn the same in the future has been forever lost," Kuczka claims.

She also takes aim at Olin for hiring Heiens. According to the complaint, Olin was negligent by failing to train and supervise Heiens and by assigning him to tasks for which he was not trained, qualified or experienced.

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