Shanghai plaintiff files wrongful death claim against Eastman in Madison County

By Steve Gonzalez | Jan 30, 2007

An employee of Eastman Chemical Co. filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court Jan. 19, seeking damages for his wife's death.

According to the complaint, Russell Clevenger is an international employee of Eastman living in Shanghai, China, and claims he is a resident of Lake Villa, Ill.

His wife Carolyn died in Hong Kong from malaria on Jan. 19, 2005, after being evacuated from a hospital in Shanghai.

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.

He claims in 1995, he turned down a relocation assignment in Nanjing, China due to medical concerns relating to his young children and says he had the same concerns relating to an assignment in Shanghai.

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.

"Eastman assured Russ that his family was the first priority and that Eastman would ensure that Russ and his family would be taken care of and provided excellent healthcare," the complaint states.

He claims before taking the assignment he met with several representatives of Eastman, including the vice-president of Asia, the human resources manager and the regional vice-president, who all assured him that his family would have access to American quality medical care at the Worldlink clinic next door to Eastman in Shanghai.

Clevenger claims he was told that Worldlink was an American clinic run by Western doctors that provided American quality medical care.

"Russ and Carolyn accepted the relocation assignment based on Eastman's assurances that adequate medical care would be available in Shanghai," the complaint states.

"Russ and his family trusted Eastman relating to the healthcare issue, and relied on Eastman's assurances when making the decision to accept the transfer."

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

He claims 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.

"Worldlink did not run a dip-stick test and did not follow protocols relating to the blood smear test, which requires a blood smear test to be performed every four hours for 72 hours," the complaint states.

Clevenger claims that Ho informed him that Carolyn's malaria tests were negative and that she had dengue fever and sent her home with instructions to return the next morning.

He claims the next day Ho repeated his diagnosis and transferred Carolyn to the Worldlink inpatient facility at Xintiandi and stated that dengue fever is a virus that should run its course in five days.

Russ claims he sent an e-mail to Eastman management, family and friends explaining that Carolyn had been diagnosed with dengue fever.

"Eastman sent a fruit basket and communicated well wishes but never gave any constructive advice relating to treatment options or recommended protocols," the complaint states.

According to the complaint, other companies that employ Americans in China including Coca-Cola, DuPont, and Kodak, provided medical professionals and staff dedicated to address healthcare needs of their employees, but Eastman has no such staff.

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 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 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.

"If Carolyn had received malaria treatment just a few hours earlier, she would have survived," the complaint states. "The failures by Eastman contributed to the cause of Carolyn's suffering and death."

He claims in response to Carolyn's death, he asked Eastman to review its health and security programs for international employees to make sure nothing like this would happen to another Eastman employee.

Clevenger claims Eastman performed an Audit Needs Assessment (ANA) which confirmed that Eastman has inadequate health protocols for international employees.

He claims the ANA report also confirmed it was foreseeable that the inadequate protocols would lead to the death of an international employee or family member.

According to the complaint, Eastman breached fiduciary duties to his family and committed constructive fraud by:

  • failing to implement emergency protocols for its international employees and their families;

  • failed to provide emergency services for Russ and Carolyn;

  • failed to provide and identify facilities that could provide adequate healthcare to Russ and Carolyn;

  • making misstatements to Russ and Carolyn about the availability of adequate healthcare in Shanghai from Worldlink;

  • failing to communicate emergency resources to Russ and Carolyn; and

  • failing to take any action relating to Russ's pleas for help.

    Clevenger also claims Eastman failed to disclose the true medical risks presented in China, concealed facts about the poor quality of healthcare, failed to understand, mitigate, and proactively manage health risks and failed to communicate the details of the SOS contract.

    "The negligence by Eastman contributed to cause the pain, physical and emotional suffering, and death of Carolyn Clevenger, and caused damages and emotional suffering to Russ and their children," the complaint states.

    Clevenger is seeking all special and general damages and damages that a jury shall deem a fair and just compensation to the pecuniary injuries resulting from the death of Carolyn.

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