Firm Obtains $27 Million Jury Verdict for Firefighter's Family

Schlichter Bogard & Denton

On September 19, 2007, after a 4½ week trial, Schlichter Bogard & Denton obtained a jury verdict in the amount of $27 Million for Angela Martin, widow of St. Louis firefighter Derek Martin, and their three children in a case tried in St. Louis by Jerry Schlichter and assisted by Brad Wilmoth. The $27 Million verdict consisted of $12 Million in compensatory damages to the family and $15 Million for punitive damages against Survivair Respirators, Inc. and Bacou-Dalloz, S.A. The punitive damages were assessed for aggravating circumstances to punish the companies for their conduct and deter future misconduct. The jury found defendants 100% at fault.

Derek Martin died on May 3, 2002 at the age of 38 while working as a firefighter and member of the rescue squad for the St. Louis Fire Department. Derek and Angela Martin's children were aged 13, 11, and 3. Evidence showed that Mr. Martin had gone back into a burning building to rescue another downed firefighter, Robert Morrison, who also died in the fire. Both firefighters were wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus known as a Survivair Panther which was manufactured and sold by the companies. Derek Martin was the first recipient of the national Fallen Firefighter Award after September 11, 2001 for valor displayed by a fallen firefighter, the Ray Downey Award, which is named after a firefighter who entered the World Trade Center tower and died.

The law firm demonstrated in the trial that the breathing apparatus of the downed firefighter, Rob Morrison, was defective in that his equipment's PASS device failed to alarm as it should when he went down and became immobile due to a defect in the seal allowing water to enter the electronics compartment.

The firm also contended that the downed firefighter would have been rescued and that Derek Martin would not have needed to enter the building if the alarm had sounded. The evidence demonstrated that Derek Martin's breathing apparatus malfunctioned because the exhalation valve stuck, making it necessary for him to remove his mask and struggle to free the valve. Derek Martin died of smoke inhalation.

In the trial, the firm obtained company records showing that the companies had known for years of such malfunctions occurring and failed to warn fire departments, including the St. Louis Fire Department, of the defects. Numerous firefighters from many states, including Washington, California, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina testified that they had similar malfunctioning PASS devices and exhalation valves. It was the failure of the defendants to notify fire departments of these defects which formed the basis for the punitive damages award.

For additional details, see also: Missouri Lawyers Weekly and Lawyers USA