Lee died when he was driving a tank inside the company’s prototype fabrication shop and was overcome with freon (trichlorotrifluoroethane) fumes from a cleaning solution, Gensolv-D, which was used to degrease the interior of the tanks. Approximately 15 gallons of Freon were used to degrease the particular tank that Lee had driven. Several gallons of the solvent remained in liquid form on the floor of the tank despite that it had been sitting out overnight to ventilate. Part of Lee’s job responsibilities was to drive the degreased tanks that had been sitting out to ventilate to another part of the production facility. He was driving the tank with his head and shoulders remaining outside of the hatch cover. When he entered the tank, solvent levels in the area of the operator’s nose and mouth were around 500 parts per million (ppm), and when he started the tank, the solvent levels rose to around 1500 ppm. Within one minute, the solvent levels in the area of the driver’s nose and mouth would have risen even higher, according to a simulation. Plant safety bulletings containing information from a MSDS sheet were prepared, but the safety director had only circulated to upper level management. A number of grievances involving the use of freon in another area of the plant had been filed against the defendant. But defense witnesses said no one at General Dynamics expected that overexposure to Freon would have fatal consequences.
Attorney General Frank J. Kelley; Solicitor General Louis J. Caruso; Assistant Attorney General Theodore S. Klimaszewski
District court dismissed the charges. On appeal, the Macomb Circuit Court affirmed. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the charge for willfully violating MIOSHA standards because the employee's head and neck were not inside the enclosed space of the tank. However, the appeals court reversed and remanded on the manslaughter charge. On remand, General Dyamics entered a no contest plea, thereby facing a maximum fine of $7,500.
Penal Crimes Charged
Other Crimes Charged
Labor Code violation causing death to an employee (Mich. Lab. Code Sec. 408.1035a)
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