Pfizer to pay workers’ comp for exposure to organics
By Lee Howard
The Connecticut Appellate Court, in a decision that won’t be officially released until July 21, has ruled in
favor of a former Pfizer Inc. employee in a workers’ compensation case.
Ronald C. Chappell of Groton, a former chemical operator in the fermentation department of Pfizer’s one-time
manufacturing facility in Groton, filed a workers’ compensation claim in 2002, saying his exposure to organic
molds and other materials – including blood meal and ground-up chicken parts – led to his asthma, which a doctor
determined to be an occupational disease.
“In general, employers don’t like to pay for occupational diseases,” said Carolyn P. Kelly, who represented Chappell
along with lead attorney of the New London firm Suisman Shapiro, who estimated that more than half of
these claims are contested.
Kelly said Chappell will likely get a lump-sum payment, plus continued compensation for out-of-pocket medical
expenses. In addition, his insurer may be able to collect money it has paid for his asthma care in the past as well
as going forward.
Kelly said Pfizer could further contest the claim by taking the case to the state Supreme Court, but she thought this
step was unlikely. Chappell, throughout his seven-year workers’ compensation effort, has received no money for his
out-of-pocket asthma care, she added.
Pfizer and its co-defendant, the Wausau Insurance Co., had opposed the claim on technical grounds, including whether
asthma in this case constituted an occupational disease. But Pfizer, in this phase of the case, admitted Chappell’s
asthma arose out of his employment in the fermentation department.
Pfizer was represented by Vernon attorney Erik S. Bartlett.
The appellate court said procedures used to clean tanks at the fermentation facility – where antibiotics were
manufactured – exposed Chappell to airborne waste and residue. “(Chappell) did not wear protective respiratory
gear during the cleaning procedure, nor was he required to do so by (Pfizer),” the court said in its findings of fact.
“There is no dispute that his exposure arose out of and in the course of his duties as a chemical operator or that it
directly led to his asthma,” the court said. “(Chappell’s) asthma constitutes an occupational disease because his
employment as a chemical operator in (Pfizer’s) fermentation department was more likely to cause this
disease than would other kinds of employment under the same conditions.”
Chappell’s request for workers’ compensation had previously been approved by the workers’ comp commissioner for the
second district and by the workers’ compensation review board.
An attempt to reach Chappell proved unsuccessful.
A Pfizer spokesman said the company had not seen the decision and had no comment on it.