Cloroben Chemical Corp. v. Comegys, 464 A.2d 887 (Del. 1983)
Charlotte Comegys was at home with her young daughter Angela in their apartment in Wilmington, Delaware when their drain clogged. They contacted a plumber, Alfred Dorsey, to unclog the drain. Alfred tried to manually unclog the drain, and when that did not work he went to a plumbing supply company to buy a quart of “Drain Snake.” Drain Snake, by Cloroben Chemicals, was a 95% sulfuric acid product used for unclogging drains.
Dorsey brought the bottle of Drain Snake, twisted off the cap, and placed the bottle on a windowsill to get a tool from his car. As he was coming back in, he heard screaming coming from the bathroom. He saw the bottle of Drain Snake was knocked over, spilling out on the kitchen floor, without the red pop-lock safety lock closure to be seen. He went into the bathroom and saw Charlotte throwing water over Angela’s body.
The Drain Snake spill over Angela’s body resulted in second and third degree burns over 20 percent of her body, including her chest, right arm, face, right leg, and severely burning the area of her right breast. Angela had to go through a number of surgical procedures, and faced many future surgical procedures. She also suffered psychological problems after the accident.
The Comegys brought a lawsuit against Alfred Dorsey and Cloroben Chemicals. Dorsey settled, and the case went forward against Cloroben. During the discovery stages of the trial, Clorben representatives replied that they had not received prior complaints or legal actions concerning Drain Snake. Two years into litigation, Cloroben then produced six claim files that they indicated represented all of the claims against the company. At trial, it became clear that Cloroben still had more claims against the company, which were never produced. Eventually, thousands of documents were produced, all relating to claims or suits filed against the company relating to Drain Snake accidents.
The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $185,000 in compensatory damages, and punitive damages against Cloroben alone amounting to $120,000. The jury allocated compensatory damages 80% against Cloroben, and 20% against the plumber. Cloroben appealed the punitive damages award, and the Supreme Court of Delaware upheld the trial court’s findings.
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