FOX19 Investigates: Burned at Work

FOX19 Investigates: Burned at work

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, OH (FOX19) - In an exclusive interview with FOX19, a worker injured at Procter & Gamble's Cincinnati plant that produces glycerin accuses company executives of turning their backs on him after an accident that nearly cost him his life.

Ted Knight oversaw much of the equipment at the plant. While investigating a leak one day, he was burned by a shooting stream of sticky glycerin that was hotter than boiling water.

"It was horrific," Knight said, adding that it was like someone spraying "cooking oil all over you at 80psi, which is about twice your garden hose."

At the hospital, it wasn't clear if Knight would pull through.

"I possibly thought Ted was dying by the way they shuttled me in a little room at University Hospital, pulled the blinds, closed the door," said his wife, Tammy. "And I thought, 'Whoa! This is worse than I thought.'"

For 65 days, Knight was monitored by doctors and nurses in intensive care. He endured 12 skin grafting surgeries.

Even today, he takes bottles and bottles of prescription medication just to keep some of the pain at bay. Some of his internal organs are still damaged, according to his wife.

But she says another "injury set in" when Procter and Gamble fired her husband in June. His salary is gone. The healthcare benefits for his family have disappeared. He says all he has left are the workers' compensation benefits that pay his medical bills. But there's nothing, he says, to pay the mortgage. The Knights are worried they will lose their home.

"I never would've thought I would've been placed in the position to think that we could lose our house or everything that we've worked for because he got hurt at work," Tammy Knight said.

Ted Knight expected P&G to take care of him and his family for the rest of his life due to the fact that he was a longtime employee, given significant trust and responsibility by the company, and was hurt in an accident he believes P&G could've prevented.

"They could afford to do what's right," he said. "Very much so."

In a statement to FOX19, P&G spokesman Ian Tholking defended the company's decision to part ways with Knight.

"Earlier this year, Mr. Knight's physician cleared him to return to work with permanent restrictions," Tholking wrote. "The extent of his restrictions left us unable to identify a role that he might be qualified for that would allow him to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation."

As for money, Tholking says Knight is not taking advantage of all of the workers' compensation benefits available to him.

"Mr. Knight is eligible to receive wage loss compensation if he finds another job that pays less than what he was making at P&G," wrote Tholking. "If he looks for work but cannot find work within his restrictions, he is eligible to receive non-working wage loss compensation. Further, Mr. Knight can apply for a vocational rehabilitation program that the Company would pay for under Workers' Comp, which would allow him to be retrained for another job."

But the Knights believe P&G should be responsible for more than that --- that the company should pay them for irreversibly altering Ted's life. In their view, the pump would never have accidentally sprayed him if a safety device called a "sample box" had not been removed. The box allowed P&G employees to take a sample of the glycerin without having to touch it.

"They broke their own rules," said Knight's attorney, Don Moore, who also hosts a legal talk show once a week on FOX19.

He accused P&G of continuing to make employees take samples from the pump even after the protective box had been removed.

"They were warned in advance by other employees, 'Don't do this. It's not safe.' They had another employee, prior to Ted's injury, they told him to take samples at this location and he said, 'No, it's not safe. I'm not doing it,'" Moore said.

But in court documents, P&G's attorneys argue Knight was either careless by not looking at the condition of the pipe and attaching a simple cap to close it or he was reckless in wanting to finish the job quickly so two of his co-workers, whom he'd gathered to watch in case something went wrong, could go on break.

"…had Knight seen the uncapped pipe, he easily could have capped it… Regrettably, Knight caused his own injury," the attorneys wrote in their arguments to the judge in the case.

At first, it looked like the judge might agree.

In his ruling, Judge Dennis Helmick wrote that "P&G was aware that uncapped or unplugged lines were an issue at the plant."

He also pointed out "P&G was cited by OSHA after Knight's injuries. The citation was for not requiring or providing sufficient personal protective equipment for employees while troubleshooting."

But in a legal twist, the judge ruled all that didn't matter because P&G didn't intend to hurt Knight.

There's a 2005 Ohio law which says "The employer shall not be liable unless" the injured worker proves the company had "the intent to injure." The Knight family believes it's ridiculous.

"You know to have to prove that they intended to hurt Ted, I mean, the statement itself is a hard statement," Tammy Knight said with a shrug.

"The law itself, I feel, is not just. I feel that we are being pushed away," her husband said later.

But Knight's attorney tried to argue that the judge should look at another part of that 2005 Ohio law that would surely win the case for Knight. Paragraph C of the law says if an employer deliberately removes a piece of safety equipment a jury can consider that an "intent to injure another."

Someone at P&G removed that sample box. Shouldn't that be considered the removal of a safety device? Moore argued.

Judge Helmick didn't agree. And he ruled that the case should not go before a jury because jurors couldn't "rationally" come to a different conclusion.

The Knights are appealing the judge's ruling and are also trying to make a moral case. They say a company which made $3.6 billion in the latest quarter alone can afford to take care of a man who's been such a loyal, trusted worker.

"I mean, where was the faith, the responsibility just to do the right thing?" Tammy Knight asked.

For all her life she's lived in the neighborhood where their house sits.

Now, with Ted's salary cut-off they're in danger of losing their home. Their last hope is a decision in their favor by the Ohio Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

"Every day I feel like they're biting a piece off of me and chewing it up and spitting it out," Tammy Knight said, beginning to cry. "And pretty soon there's not going to be anything left of us."

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