Eastman Chemical wants wrongful death suit to stay in federal court

Steve Gonzalez May 25, 2007, 4:00am

Eastman Chemical Company has asked U.S. District Judge David Herndon to set a hearing date on a case filed by a Shanghai plaintiff who claims his wife died in Hong Kong from malaria on Jan. 19, 2005, after being evacuated from a hospital in Shanghai.

Russell Clevenger is an international employee of Eastman living in Shanghai, China, and claims he is a resident of Lake Villa, Ill. He filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court Jan. 19, seeking damages for his wife's death, but Eastman removed the case to federal court on Feb. 23 claiming diversity jurisdiction exists between the parties.

They also filed a motion to dismiss the suit entirely or to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Tennessee, where Eastman is based.

On April 2, Clevenger asked Herndon to send the case back to Madison County, but he has not issued a ruling or hearing date on that motion.

Clevenger claims the breaches of duty Eastman owed to his family contributed to his wife's death. He is represented by David Jones of Pratt & Tobin in East Alton and Edward Cook, Christopher Hall of Cook, Hall & Lampros of Atlanta.

Eastman manufactures and markets chemicals, fibers and plastics worldwide. Founded in 1920 and headquartered in Kingsport, Tenn., Eastman is a Fortune 500 company with approximately 12,000 employees.

The company produces more than 1,200 products used in making everything from packaging for food, drinks and personal care products, to fabrics in clothing and home furnishings, as well as paints plastics for bicycle helmets and golf clubs.

Clevenger claims that in 2002, Eastman transferred his family to China from Illinois.

According to the complaint, Clevenger started his career with Eastman in 1986 in Longview, Texas and over the next 20 years was transferred all over the country before being moved to China.

Clevenger claims from the first moment his boss mentioned an international assignment, he responded that he and his family would go anywhere in the world except China.

According to Clevenger, before he accepted the position in China, his family insisted and received assurances that if he took the assignment, he and his family would receive medical care equivalent to the medical care they would receive in the Chicago area where they lived.

Clevenger claims after working in China for two years without a medical emergency his family planned a trip to Africa to celebrate Carolyn's 40th birthday. After researching options, Carolyn selected a safari company in the United States and decided to focus their trip on Tanzania.

According to Clevenger, from Dec. 16, 2004, to Dec. 29, 2004, while traveling they took anti-malarial medications as prescribed.

He claims they did not see mosquitoes on the trip and in the African Serengeti, the resort staff told them that there were no mosquitoes during that time of year.

Clevenger claims that in addition to the anti-malarial medication they took basic precautions by using mosquito repellant and wearing long-sleeved clothing.

He claims that after returning from the trip and seeing no mosquito bite marks, Carolyn stopped taking her anti-malarial medication, just like other friends and family who had taken trips to Africa.

Clevenger claims 12 days after returning on Jan. 9, 2005, Carolyn began to experience flu-like symptoms and three days later began feeling worse.

He claims following Eastman's instructions, Carolyn made an appointment at Worldlink and was treated by Dr. Warren Ho.

According to the complaint, the nurse drew blood and the Worldlink doctors purported to run two malaria blood smear tests.

Clevenger claims that on Jan. 14, 2005, Carolyn's fever became severe and she suffered a seizure prompting Worldlink to transfer Carolyn to Huashan Hospital, a local Chinese hospital where she would have access to an ICU bed, a neurologist and an MRI.

Clevenger claims the doctors at Huashan spoke almost no English and could not communicate with him relating to Carolyn's condition or the treatment they were providing.

He claims that on Jan. 15, 2005, he was given a critical condition form that informed him for the first time that Carolyn was in danger of dying.

According to the complaint, at 2 a.m. Clevenger called the president of Eastman's Asian-Pacific Division seeking help with the emergency situation. At 8 a.m. he received a call back and was told that Human Resources was given permission to approve whatever what was needed.

Clevenger claims he was informed of no protocols and that Human Resources took no steps to assist him.

He claims based on the advice from friends, he contacted a China-based Coca-Cola human resources manager Jonathon Taylor for advice.

Clevenger claims Taylor told him to immediately contact SOS International, an emergency evacuation company, for an evacuation.

"Coca-Cola's HR Manager attempted to help Russ while Eastman, on the other hand, did nothing," the complaint states.

Clevenger claims although Eastman contracted with SOS to provide services to its employees, Eastman employees received no training relating to the services SOS offered.

"The extent of services offered by SOS was never outlined or explained by Eastman," the complaint states.

He claims the ambulance sent by SOS did not arrive until 10 hours after the request of Coca-Cola, but Carolyn was then flown in an SOS plane to Adventist Hospital in Hong Kong.

Clevenger claims that within 45 minutes of her arrival on Jan. 19, 2005, doctors in Hong Kong diagnosed Carolyn with malaria using the results of a dip stick diagnostic test and immediately began to administer anti-malarial medications.

"It was confirmed that Carolyn did not have dengue fever," the complaint states.

He claims that after receiving treatment, Carolyn's parasite count dropped from 40 percent of red blood cells to approximately 2.5 percent, but other tests showed that, due to the delay in treatment, Carolyn's brain function was only 5 percent.

Clevenger claims later that day, Carolyn's heart stopped and she died.

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