The first trial of a claim in a consolidated State action by sensitized health care workers against latex glove manufacturers resulted in a California jury awarding $1.3 million to a respiratory therapist as a result of her allergic reaction to latex gloves used at the hospital where she worked. The jury award confirms the credibility and validity of such claims and makes real the probability of securing benefits directly from the manufacturers, for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce, in addition to the employers against whom limited workers' compensation benefits are granted without regard to fault.
Christine McGinnis was a respiratory therapist who used approximately 50 pairs of gloves daily during her employment from 1991 to 1996. She developed a life threatening reaction to latex protein and required hospitalization.
Her claim was brought against the glove manufacturers Baxter Health Care and Allegiance Corp. Allegiance was spun off from Baxter in 1996 and continued the sale of latex gloves.
In reaching its historic verdict, the jury apportioned the contributory negligence as follows: 70% against the glove manufacturers and 30% attributed to both the employee and the employer, the hospital. Normally, a claim directed against an employer is not permitted since workers' compensation acts usually prohibit claims for negligence against an employer in exchange for limited and scheduled workers' compensation benefits.
It has been estimated that 950,000 health care workers may become sensitized to latex as a result of exposure to the latex protein in gloves. The allergic reaction ranges from a localized rash to systemic conditions such as hives, shortness of breath, and life threatening anaphylactic shock. The sensitized health care worker alleged that the ultimate wrongdoer was the glove manufacturer and that these glove manufacturers knew of the dangers of their product but failed to take timely action to remedy the problem. A simple 30-second process of washing the latex out of the gloves was allegedly known to the industry but was not utilized by Baxter until 1996.
While there has been an increasing trend to award workers' compensation benefits to latex allergic individuals and to consider such claims as catastrophic, the jury verdict in this case is a sentinel event. As a bellwether case, a test case for consolidated claims both in the State and Federal systems, it alerts sensitized workers to the availability of benefits directly from the manufacturers of latex gloves. McGinnis v. Baxter Health Care, 771258-2, July 13, 2000 (Alameda County, Calif.).