Compensation Upheld From Snack Food Maker

, New York Law Journal

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An appeals court has upheld the workers' compensation claim of a worker who blamed the seasonings he inhaled at a plant that manufactures Frito Lay snacks for being at least in part to blame for his respiratory problems.

The Appellate Division, Third Department, ruled that Keith Sandell provided expert medical testimony that was sufficient to provide a link between his breathing distress and the 12 years he worked at a Binghamton plant where Frito Lay makes corn, potato and grain-based snacks.

The court's ruling in Matter of Sandell, 515418, related how the worker's coughing and shortness of breath led to a diagnosis of chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a pulmonary condition. Sandell blamed his problem on the seasoning dust released into the air at the chip plant as well as on the fumes from the cleaning compounds he was exposed to while performing cleaning and sanitation duties.

The Third Department, in upholding a ruling awarding benefits to Sandell by the Workers' Compensation Board, said it was not necessary for the worker to definitively show which of the seasonings or cleaning materials caused his respiratory problems. It was sufficient for him to establish a "recognizable link" between his health problems and exposure to airborne residues on the job, the court ruled.

The judges also said it bolstered Sandell's claim when his medical expert testified that his condition "waxed and waned depending upon the amount of time he spent at work."

Justice Leslie Stein (See Profile) wrote for the court on Dec. 26. Presiding Justice Karen Peters (See Profile) and Justices John Lahtinen (See Profile) and John Egan Jr. (See Profile) joined in the ruling.

Jeffrey Brown of Coughlin & Gerhart in Binghamton represented Frito Lay. Assistant Attorney General Donya Fernandez appeared on behalf of the Workers' Compensation Board.

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