Two companies found negligent in death of mechanic in tank truck Man was overcome by chemical fumes

April 19, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County jury has found two companies negligent in the 1992 death of Martin Wirtz, a mechanic who climbed inside a tank truck to save a friend and died inhaling fumes from chemical waste.

After nearly two hours of deliberation Thursday, the jury ordered the companies -- Farmington Freight Inc. and Cargill Inc. -- to pay Wirtz's estate $146,249 for medical and funeral bills and for pain and suffering and mental anguish.

The suit was filed by Wirtz's sister, Linda Wirtz of Florida, on behalf of his estate.

Martin Wirtz, 44, died in February 1992 trying to hoist his friend, Milton "Mickey" White III, out of the tanker after White collapsed while cleaning it at his family's North Baltimore County farm. Wirtz, a self-employed mechanic, was visiting the farm that day on a welding job.

White, owner of Farmington Freight, had just emptied what he believed was a mixture of molasses, rain water and chemical fertilizer from the Cargill facility in South Baltimore into a 1.2 million-gallon manure pit at the farm.

In addition to finding the two companies negligent, the jury found White negligent in Wirtz's death, as well.

White testified during the trial that Wirtz "was more like a brother than anything to me." He also told the jury that he has lost much of his short-term memory due to brain damage from the accident and was unable to recall the day it took place.

Other testimony in the case showed that Cargill never tested the chemicals before they were transported to determine if they were hazardous materials. Farmington Freight also had no bill of lading that named the contents in the tanker.

After the accident, Farmington Freight was cited by the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency for failing to have adequate rescue procedures, failing to test the tank for oxygen before White entered it and for his entering the tank without another person to talk to outside.

"My clients are very satisfied that the jury was able to take the evidence and understand exactly what happened," said Linda Wirtz's lawyer, Kurt D. Karsten.

Steven R. Migdal, lawyer for Farmington Freight and for White, said he believes the jury rewarded Martin Wirtz's "heroic effort" but that there was not sufficient evidence to prove "pain and suffering" in the case.

Cargill's attorney could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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