Chemicals of concern were in Crete Brite, an acid cleaner composed of ammonium biFLUORIDE, butoxyethanol, hydrochloric acid, and hydrofluoric acid.
Raymond D. Langford Appellant
Southland Trucking, LLC and Associated General Contractors of Mississippi, Inc. Apelees
Court of Appeals of Mississippi
March 16, 2010
Attorney for Appellant: William T. Reed.
Attorney for Appellees: Ronald T. Russell
Before Myers, P.J., Barnes and Maxwell, JJ
Myers, P.J., for the Court
¶ 1. At issue in this appeal is whether the Jackson County Circuit Court erred in affirming the decision of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission (Commission) which denied Raymond D. Langford’s claim for medical and disability benefits. Langford filed a petition to controvert on June 8, 2004, alleging that he sustained injury to his heart and lungs after exposure to toxic fumes at his place of employment on July 25, 2001. The administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that Langford had failed to prove that his lung and heart condition arose out of and in the course and scope of his employment with Southland Trucking Company. The Commission affirmed the ALJ’s finding. The circuit court, on appeal, held that the Commission’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and affirmed its ruling. Finding no error, we affirm the circuit court’s judgment.
¶ 2. Langford was employed as a truck driver for Southland, a cement trucking business in Jackson County, Mississippi. Langford’s job primarily involved hauling sand and gravel to area concrete plants. The drivers received extra pay for washing their company trucks on the weekends.[ 1 ] To assist the drivers in cleaning the chrome rims and fuel tanks on the trucks, the drivers used a cleaner called Crete Brite, which was stored at Southland’s sister company, Metro Concrete, located directly next to Southland.
¶ 3. Langford claimed that on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 25, 2001, he experienced an injurious exposure to toxic fumes when Kenneth Mitchell, a co-worker from Metro Concrete, assisted him in pouring Crete Brite from a 55-gallon drum into a small container for Langford to clean his cement truck that upcoming weekend. According to Langford, he held the container, which he described as a two-gallon square jug with a two to three inch opening on the top of it, while Mitchell poured the Crete Brite from the drum. Langford claimed that the 55-gallon drum was full at the time. During the transfer, some of the cleaner spilled onto Langford, and he inhaled the vapors…
¶ 7. The following morning when Langford awoke at 2:00 a.m. to report to work at 3:00 a.m., he felt some shortness of breath, which he did not think much of at the time. He went to work and transported a load to Picayune, Mississippi. Upon his return, Langford told his employer he was not feeling well and was having trouble breathing. Langford went home and sometime later went to the emergency room at the Ocean Springs Hospital. There, he informed an emergency-room physician that he had inhaled some cleaning solution. Langford was admitted to intensive care and placed on oxygen.
¶ 8. While at the Ocean Springs Hospital, Langford was seen by Dr. Harry Heitzman, who specialized in internal medicine. Dr. Heitzman obtained consultations from Dr. Gary Rodberg, a pulmonologist, and Dr. Joseph Pedone, a cardiologist. Langford was treated under a preliminary diagnosis of possible chemical pneumonitis based on his admission history. The physicians were able to stabilize Langford’s condition well enough for him to go home. Langford was discharged on July 31, 2001, diagnosed with chemical pneumonitis and congestive heart failure, and he was instructed to follow up with his cardiologist, Dr. Pedone.[ 2 ]
¶ 9. On August 6, 2001, on the advice of Dr. Pedone, Langford went to the Singing River Hospital where he underwent a cardiac catherization procedure. The procedure determined that Langford had “moderate to server aortic and mitral valve regurgitation, mild depression of left ventricular function, and 80 percent narrowing of [his] right coronary artery.” Dr. Pedone recommended that Langford undergo both double-valve procedure surgery as well as single-vessel bypass surgery in September 2001.[ 3 ]
¶ 10. On August 15, 2001, Langford returned to the Singing River Hospital complaining of shortness of breath. He was admitted with a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, including “fever, hypotension, worsening respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilator support, and acute renal failure.” By all accounts, Langford was in critical condition.
¶ 11. While at the Singing River Hospital, Langford was seen by Dr. Timothy Hiebert, a pulmonary specialist. Dr. Hiebert recorded a patient history of fume exposure brought upon “while transferring [a] cleaner from a 55-gallon drum to a smaller container.” Dr. Hiebert opted to perform a biopsy on the lower lobe of Langford’s right lung. Tissue samples from that procedure were sent to Dr. James Waldron, a diagnostic surgical pathologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Dr. Waldron was informed that Langford “was a [fifty-two-] year[-]old male with aortic insufficiency and a one-month history of shortness of breath, initiated by inhalation of a clinical cleaner.” Upon examining the tissue samples, Dr. Waldron concluded that the “tissue showed acute lung injury, which would be classifiable as diffuse alveolar damage, organization phase, with elements of bronchiolitis obliterans.” In Dr. Waldron’s opinion, based upon a reasonable degree of medical probability, the alveolar damage “was consistent with some sort of inhalation injury to the lungs.”
¶ 12. Langford underwent heart surgery in November 2001. According to Langford, he has not returned to his pre-injury condition. He continues to have shortness of breath with any type of physical exertion, and he has a “physician’s release” from Dr. Hiebert.
¶ 13. On June 8, 2004, Langford filed a petition to controvert with the Commission alleging that he had suffered a work-related accident as the result of exposure to toxic fumes which caused injuries to his lungs and heart. Southland and its insurance carrier filed an answer disputing Langford’s claim.
¶ 14. A hearing was held on or about May 17, 2007, before the ALJ. Both parties submitted extensive evidence to the ALJ for her consideration of the merits of Langford’s claim. Along with his testimony, Langford presented evidence composed of depositions and/or medical records from his treating and consulting physicians, Drs. Heitzman, Pedone, Rodberg, Hiebert, and Waldron. Southland presented lay witness testimonies from Mitchell and from Tanya Philbrook, Southland’s bookkeeper during the period of time in which Langford was employed by Southland. In support of its claim that Langford did not sustain an injurious exposure to Crete Brite, Southland submitted expert opinions from Drs. Robert Jones, a professor of medicine at Tulane University, who is board certified in pulmonary diseases and internal medicine, and William George, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Tulane University. Southland also submitted the deposition of Dr. Robert Babcock, a chemical engineer, who is the department head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Arkansas…