Texas Jury Awards $1.5 Million for Heat-Related Death

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May 23 — In a case that began almost 11 years earlier when a supervisor died from a heart attack in a warehouse without air-conditioning, a Texas jury found United Parcel Service grossly negligent May 19 and awarded $1.5 million to the supervisor's family.

The supervisor, Nathaniel Cooper, suffered a fatal heart attack in June 2005 while working in a UPS warehouse in Houston. The resulting suit for damages may have taken so long because he had been diagnosed with a congenital heart block when he was young and worked light duty at UPS as a consequence. When Cooper's fiancée, Terrica Barnes, sought damages, Cooper's history of heart trouble led to summary judgment against her at both the Texas Department of Workers' Compensation and in the District Court of Harris County, Texas.

In 2012, however, the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that the Department of Workers' Compensation and the trial court had granted summary judgment without addressing adequately Barnes' claims of gross negligence against UPS. The appellate court remanded to the trial court.

There, attorneys for Barnes introduced evidence of Cooper's temperature of 103.1 when he was admitted to the hospital. They also introduced OSHA logs or work-related injuries and illnesses to show that Cooper's death was just one of 10 heat-related incidents logged by UPS at its warehouse between 2002 and 2005.

Barnes' team also called former co-workers who testified about the heat in the UPS warehouse.

The jury awarded Barnes' $1 million in exemplary damages, which includes punitive damages. It also awarded a total of $500,000 for financial losses and loss of companionship.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schwartz in Washington at dschwartz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

Barnes' lawsuit in the case is available at http://src.bna.com/ffC.