Last month, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld a previous ruling to award workers’ compensation benefits to an employee of Nestlé who contracted the life-threatening Legionnaire’s Disease from working on contaminated beverage machines.
A Very Sick Employee
In June of 2013, longtime Nestlé employee Shawn Gallen was admitted to the hospital for severe flu-like symptoms after working in New Jersey and Pennsylvania Nestlé locations for many years. He was diagnosed with Legionnaire’s Disease, which is a very serious and potentially-deadly form of pneumonia caused by airborne water exposure to Legionella bacteria. Gallen remained in the hospital, fighting for his life, until September 2013. Though he was released to go home, he experienced permanent physical deficiencies, including a brain injury, difficulty speaking, and the need to use a wheelchair. He can no longer perform basic daily self-care functions by himself, let alone continue working.
When Gallen submitted his workers’ compensation claim to his employer, it was denied on the basis that there was no evidence the soda and fountain machines he worked on were the sources of his illness. He then filed a complaint with a workers’ compensation judge, who ordered testimony from Gallen’s doctor, loved ones, and occupational hygiene and medical experts to share what they knew about Gallen and his work environment. Everyone — especially his physician and the Nestlé-supplied experts — agreed that the most likely source of Gallen’s exposure were the machines he was tasked with maintaining.
In the initial ruling, Nestlé was ordered to provide temporary full-disability benefits to Gallen. They immediately requested an appeal and the case moved to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. The Appeal Board affirmed the initial ruling and concluded that Gallen did provide substantial evidence and that the judge in the initial case acted appropriately in weighing the material facts.
Nestlé then lodged another appeal in which a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania again upheld the original ruling. In a unsurprising but disappointing comment made to the press, a Nestlé spokeswoman stated, “We are disappointed by the court’s decision and are assessing our options for an appeal. While we sympathize with Mr. Gallen’s condition, we do not believe it was related to his employment with Nestlé Vitality.”