Appeals court upholds award after Supreme Court passes on decision
SPRINGFIELD - Five years after suffering massive third-degree burns in an explosion at an aluminum processing plant, a Sikeston man will soon collect more than $4 million in compensatory damages.
A 2-1 decision handed down Wednesday by a panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District ends appeals challenging a Scott County jury's award to Ernest Bland.
Michael Ponder, Bland's Cape Girardeau-based attorney, said his client is relieved the court battles are over.
"He certainly feels vindicated and is happy it is resolved," Ponder said. "But Mr. Bland was burned over 35 percent of his body. His life will never be the same."
At issue was whether the circuit court in which the lawsuit was filed had jurisdiction to hear the case or if any injury claims should have been handled by the state's worker compensation system.
Bland was an employee at Marnor Aluminum Processing Inc. at Miner on Jan. 12, 1997, when he was splashed with molten metal following a furnace explosion. That plant has since closed.
He filed a personal injury lawsuit in Scott County Circuit Court against Marnor's owner, Metal Mark Inc., and that company's owner, IMCO Recycling Co. A jury awarded Bland $4 million, assigning 40 percent fault to IMCO and 60 percent to Metal Mark.
The companies appealed, and the southern district court dismissed Metal Mark as a defendant, saying that company rather than Marnor was Bland's actual employer. As such, Metal Mark was immune from civil liability.
The judgment against IMCO, however, was upheld and that company appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
The state high court heard oral arguments on the appeal Jan. 8. Two weeks later - without issuing an opinion and without comment - the court remanded the matter back to the southern district, which reissued its earlier ruling. That decision stands as final.
Larry Grebel, the St. Louis attorney representing IMCO, said his clients were disappointed the Supreme Court passed on deciding the case.
"Certainly, we would have preferred the Supreme Court rule on the issues we presented," Grebel said.
As the only remaining defendant, IMCO is responsible for paying the full damage award, which with interest accrued during the appeals process could top $4.5 million.