South Carolina

Newberry man badly burned in workplace incident gets $9.7 million settlement

A Newberry man who suffered horrible burns from his feet to his neck from scalding water in a 2016 workplace incident has been paid $9.75 million to settle his lawsuit against the manufacturer of a hot ash removal system he said lacked basic safety equipment.

In a lawsuit in federal court, Cephus Glenn, 37, alleged he was working as usual near a tank-like machine, called an Ash Handler, when “without any warning, (he) was completely engulfed” in a wave of 160-degree water and knocked to the ground. Water more than 154 degrees produces severe burns instantly.

“The scalding liquid caused Mr. Glenn to suffer third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body, requiring extensive medical treatment and leaving him with permanent, severe injuries,” his lawsuit said.

The hot water shot out of the open tank and drenched Glenn after “a large mass of debris suddenly fell out of the furnace” into the open water, the lawsuit said.

The incident could have easily been prevented, Glenn’s lawsuit asserted, except that AshTech Corp., the Ohio company that manufactures the Ash Handler, did not provide a protective cover over the tank, the lawsuit said. And in fact, after the incident, AshTech provided Glenn’s company with instructions on how to construct such a lid, plaintiff’s court filings said.

In settlement documents, AshTech admitted no fault. It denied Glenn’s allegations and described the settlement as a “compromise of a disputed claim ... made solely to avoid the costs and expenses of trial and any uncertainty associated with litigation.”

Glenn’s attorney, S.C. Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, said that after the incident, Glenn was in a medically induced coma at the JMS Burn Center in Augusta for two months and stayed at the center for another three months after reviving. Glenn’s medical bills came to some $8 million, Harpootlian said.

Under S.C. law, the medical bills were paid by the worker’s compensation insurance program. That program requires employees to have workplace compensation, which pays for workplace injuries. Under the program, employees cannot file suit against their employers.

However, injured employees can sue a company that makes a product used by the employer that is believed to have caused the workplace injury. That is what happened in this case, Harpootlian said.

The incident happened at Glenn’s employer’s factory, Norbord Inc., which is located in Kinards around the Newberry-Laurens county border. It manufactures wood-based panels.

According to the settlement, about $1.7 million of the $9.75 million settlement will be paid to reimburse the workers’ compensation insurance program. Another $3 million will go to fund 40 years of monthly payments of $11,517 to Glenn for life. Fees for attorneys and their expenses were not detailed in the settlement documents, but they usually amount to one-third or more of the total settlement.

“Mr. Glenn had horrendous injuries, and we are glad we could get a resolution which will result in him receiving lifelong compensation for both his pain and suffering and physical injuries,” Harpootlian said.