The attorney representing the estate of a Trinity man who died Tuesday, allegedly from a chemical exposure at Daikin America's Decatur plant on July 2, says the company should reevaluate its safety procedures and provide information about the incident that is now blamed for two deaths.

Will Delashaw, 33, spent nearly three months in the intensive care unit at UAB Hospital before dying Tuesday, after having breathing problems following the July 2 exposure, said attorney Kendall Dunson of Beasley Allen law firm in Montgomery.

In the same incident in July, another Daikin employee, Wesley Rusk of Eva, developed breathing issues overnight and went to the emergency room at Huntsville Hospital on July 4. Rusk was transferred to Vanderbilt Hospital on July 15, where he died on Aug. 10. He was 45.

Rusk’s widow, Sharona, said after reviewing a list of possible chemical exposures provided to them by Daikin, doctors at Vanderbilt "narrowed it down to sulfur dioxide."

The company has not said publicly what chemical was involved or acknowledged any role in the deaths.

An unnamed third worker exposed during the July incident is not in the hospital, Dunson said, but “is still having issues and obviously very concerned of what happened to his two co-workers.”

Delashaw and Rusk are among four workers who have died in the past two years after allegedly being exposed to chemicals at the Daikin plant in Decatur. In October 2019, two subcontractor employees were exposed to dangerous chemicals and have died from damaged lung complications, according to their attorney.

Daikin spokesman Forrest Keith said Delashaw was a nine-year employee with the company and his death is “heartbreaking.”

In a statement, Keith wrote: “Our hearts and prayers go out to Will’s wife, Ashley, and the family. ...

"Words cannot adequately express our deep sense of sadness at the loss of one of our Daikin family members. Grief counselors are being arranged to be at the plant for our employees. Please keep Will Delashaw’s family, and the entire Daikin America family in your prayers, as we all struggle with this heartbreaking news.”

Keith said the company could not comment further on the case because of pending litigation.

Dunson said safety needs to be a bigger priority for Daikin.

Dunson said Delashaw’s family still is unclear about what killed their husband and father. He was married with two children under the age of 10.

“They know he was exposed to chemicals at work. They don’t know what the chemicals were nor the interactions of those chemicals. We’re wanting answers from Daikin.”

Dunson said his client was wearing professional protective equipment when the alleged exposure occurred but questions whether the equipment failed.

“We do know he was wearing PPE and a respirator. We don’t know if the respirator was defective or if the respirator was appropriate for that exposure,” Dunson said. “We are in that stage of asking questions.”

An official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was checking the status of the federal agency's investigations into the July and 2019 incidents at the Daikin plant but did not respond with any information Wednesday.

Dunson said he wasn’t able to ask Delashaw any questions or get a deposition from him.

“I was brought in a few weeks after his exposure and he was already in ICU at UAB and I wasn’t allowed in to talk with him,” he said. “My job is to replace the income he provided for his family through litigation, and hopefully, force Daikin to take the necessary steps so this won’t happen again. With what happened in 2019 we shouldn’t be dealing with exposure, but here we are. We want to make sure there is not another family asking the same questions next year.”

Dunson filed a lawsuit against Daikin on behalf of Delashaw on Sept. 16, saying his client "was exposed to toxic chemicals" and "suffered a permanent physical and vocation impairment." The attorney said he’ll amend his complaint against the company since it was filed before Delashaw’s death. He said Delashaw was awaiting a lung transplant when he died.

“We’ll see how forthcoming Daikin is. It might be the manufacturer of the chemicals, manufacturer of the PPE, manufacturer of the respirator," Dunson said. "At this point, we don’t know enough to know who all was responsible. Hopefully in the next couple of months we’ll figure that out.”


2019 deaths

Decatur attorney Randy Ferguson is representing the families of two subcontractors who died after alleged chemical exposure at the plant in 2019. Peter Lewis died in Decatur Morgan Hospital in December 2019, nine weeks after the incident. Darby Dockery, who spent 5½ months in UAB Hospital before returning home to Decatur, died Sept. 13.

Lewis, 43, was employed with Daikin contractor Total Safety of Texas, Ferguson said, and had a wife and seven children.

Dockery, who worked with Contracting Services and Fabrication of Decatur, later contracted COVID and died this month. “Her body was weak and couldn’t fight (COVID),” Ferguson said.

He said Lewis and Dockery were working during a shutdown at the chemical plant when pipes wrapped in plastic broke and exposed them to toxic chemicals.

“They had no safety protection on,” he said. “My client (Dockery) was going to be on a respirator for the rest of her life with tubes coming out of her neck. I don’t understand why my clients weren’t wearing any PPE."

He said, “Darby (Dockery) had more than $2 million in hospital bills and couldn’t leave the house except to go to the doctor or my office. Her lungs were gone because of the exposure. She was on oxygen 24 hours a day. She was never going to live long enough to see her kids grow up.” She was married with three children, Ferguson said.

Delashaw's funeral is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Parkway Funeral Home in Trinity.

According to its website, Daikin America develops, manufactures and sells fluoropolymers and chemistry used in aerospace, automotive, cookware and other industrial segments. Located on State Docks Road along the Tennessee River, Daikin in Decatur employs about 400 workers.

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