Enron Subsidiary Appeals Compensation to Disabled Worker

Aug. 14, 2003
The Illinois Appellate Court has agreed to hear arguments by Northern Petrochemical Co., a subsidiary of Enron Corp., challenging an award of weekly compensation benefits for life to a former employee who suffers from an occupational disease caused by his exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace.

Douglas Fifer, formerly of Marseilles, Ill., was exposed to toxic chemicals in 1984 while employed by Northern Petrochemical in Morris, Ill. Based on medical evidence, the Illinois Industrial Commission found that Fifer's chemical exposure compromised his immune system, rendering him wholly and permanently disabled.

The commission awarded Fifer the sum of $390.67 per week for life for total disability under the Illinois Workers' Occupational Diseases Act. Fifer's weekly benefit is based upon two-thirds of his weekly wage at the time of his chemical exposure.

Northern Petrochemical appealed the compensation award to the Circuit Court of Will County, but Judge Herman Haase dismissed the appeal on July 31, 2002.

Northern Petrochemical filed a Notice of Appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court on August 30, 2002. The court received legal briefs from attorneys representing Northern Petrochemical and Fifer. Oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 11 before the Appellate Court in Springfield.

Attorney Marc A. Perper of the law offices of Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, Ltd. represents Fifer. According to Perper, "Every single doctor who treated Mr. Fifer agreed that his immune suppression was caused by toxic chemical exposure in the workplace. His blood work revealed a diminished T-cell helper/suppressor ratio, which constitutes evidence of immune suppression."

Perper cites research at the National Institutes of Health that has documented a clear relationship between immune suppression and contact with petroleum distillates such as those to which Fifer was exposed.

Northern Petrochemical hired its own medical expert, who, according to Perper, is a toxicologist who does a great deal of consulting work and lobbying on behalf of the chemical industry. The toxicologist claimed Fifer is not immune-suppressed, and he denied the chemicals to which Fifer was exposed could even cause immune suppression.

Perper points out the toxicologist never examined Mr. Fifer, and never even commented on the medical literature from NIH. The Industrial Commission relied on the testimony of the treating physician to render its decision.

Perper explained that compensation to Fifer for his occupational disease, while important, is only one of two goals of the legal case. "Monetary compensation for those who become ill or injured due to their work activities is a vital purpose of our workers' compensation laws," said Perper. "But a second, equally important purpose of the law is to encourage every employer to make its workplace safe. In this case, Mr. Fifer was not the only Northern Petrochemical employee who became ill after being exposed to toxic chemicals."

Over $370,000.00 plus interest has accrued to date on Fifer's compensation award. Compensation will continue to accrue at a rate of $390.67 per week. Aside from his lifetime compensation award, Fifer's only income consists of Social Security Disability and a long-term disability benefit he receives from Enron.

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