HUNTINGTON -- A Kanawha Valley woman has filed suit after she says she nearly lost her right arm in a workplace accident.
Jennifer Carte filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Huntington against her former employer, the former employer's parent company and a vacuum manufacturing company.
Carte worked for Loft Painting Company at a facility owned by American Electric Power Service Corporation at the time of the accident. American Electric Power Service Corporation contracted for maintenance work to be performed for a project known as the "Cardinal Units 1&2 FGD Project."
Carte says she was working inside an above-ground bulk storage tank, vacuuming sandblasted material and other debris from the interior floor of the storage tank. The vacuum she used was a high-pressure industrial vacuum manufactured by Vector Technologies.
Filed on Aug. 15, the suit states that while vacuuming, Carte's arm was violently pulled into the four-inch hose of the Vector vacuum. Carte says there is no emergency shut-off for the vacuum. She waited, alone, for more than 15 minutes with her arm trapped while a co-worker climbed outside of the tank to find the shut-off.
Filed by Carte's attorneys, John Tinney Jr. and Andrea King of the Charleston Tinney Law Firm, the suit states American Electric Power Service Corporation and Loft Painting Company employees came to Carte's aid. However, after 15 minutes, the arm was incredible swollen and mangled. The employees worked for several minutes to cut the high pressure industrial vacuum hose off her arm.
According to the suit, through "blinding pain," Carte continued to wait as an on-site nurse assessed her injury. A co-worker drove Carte to a nearby hospital in Steubenville, Ohio, where it was determined she needed emergency trauma treatment. At that point, Carte was life-flighted to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., by helicopter. Once at Allegheny General Hospital, Carte's doctors determined that she had right forearm compartment syndrome.
Compartment syndrome occurs when the tissue pressure within a muscle group (or compartment) prevents the delivery of freshly oxygenated blood and removal of blood waste products resulting in severe muscle and nerve damage, pain, decreased sensation, and irritation. If left untreated, Carte could have died, had arm paralysis, or even lost her arm completely.
The suit says, to treat and hopefully save her arm, Carte underwent emergency surgery. However, following the surgery, Carte developed a hematoma, a very dangerous and large bruise, which required a second surgery to evacuate the collection of blood outside the vessels and a skin graft.
Allegedly, none of this has helped. Carte continues to develop infections and has incurred other injuries because of her arm, and now, because of both the accident and resulting surgeries, her arm is grossly disfigured and scarred.
Carte claims that following the accident, representatives from Loft Painting Company showed up at the hospital asking her to sign a document titled "Vector Vacuum Units Training Acknowledgment Form."
Believing her job would be at risk and foggy from her treatment, Carte says she signed the document. Later, she discovered the dates on the document had been changed to date it to far before the accident ever took place.
Carte claims that Loft Painting Company intentionally required her to perform work without the proper training and, apparently, documentation. She alleges that they tried to fraud her by post-dating the document to claim she had been trained on how to use Vector vacuum.
Another of her claims is that, because American Electric Power Service Corporation maintains the building and contracted the maintenance work, it, too, has a responsibility to provide a safe work environment. Carte also alleges the lack of an effective means to instantly shut off the vacuum created an unsafe work environment.
Carte also claims Vector Technologies is liable for its defective design and manufacturing of such a powerful vacuum without an emergency shut-off, and that Vector Technologies knew, but did not warn, its customers of the dangers associated with its vacuum.
While an exact sum is not named in the suit, it does say Carte suffered severe, permanent injuries including physical pain, scarring, disfigurement, mental anguish, physical impairment, past and future medical expenses, annoyance, and inconvenience as well as lost past and future wages, benefits and earning capacity and loss of the capacity to enjoy life. She is seeking compensatory damages as well as litigation costs, interest and attorney fees.