Bridgeport, Neb. - City held responsible in poisoning of child


Pesticide Suit Award Upheld - Published 6/28/00

Lincoln - A $346,621 verdict against the City of Bridgeport underscores the legal vulnerability of cities that allow untrained workers to spray pesticides.

A three-judge panel of the Nebraska Court of Appeals upheld a verdict Tuesday in favor of the father of a 5-year-old who suffered four seizures after being exposed to Malathion pesticide being sprayed to kill mosquitoes.

Wayne Kramer, state medical entomologist, said a law that would require workers who spray for pests to be certified will be introduced in the next session of the Nebraska Legislature.

"If you can't do it properly and you're not informed, you probably shouldn't be doing it," Kramer said.

Anthony Amateia, who is now 11, was playing with three siblings in the front yard or his Bridgeport house when a city spray truck drove by twice in the summer of 1994.

A short time later, Anthony was found on the floor of the family bathroom where he had gone to vomit.

His father, Scott Amateis, said his son was unresponsive when he picked him up. He immediately took him to the Bridgeport hospital, from which he was transferred to Scottsbluff.

Dr. Terry Himes, a neurologist in Scottsbluff, suspected chemical Poisoning because of the length of the seizure, which lasted longer than the typical five minutes.  

Anthony was discharged from the hospital the next day. However, he experienced three more seizures over the next two years.

His father alleged in a lawsuit filed in Morrill County District Court that his son has suffered mental and physical problems because of the seizures. Amateis said that since his son's exposure to the pesticide, Anthony gets frustrated easilv, loses his temper when he tries to solve problems in school and also has a shorter concentration span.

Morrill County Judge Brian Si'lverrnan sided with Axrateis, awardiig the family $346,621.

A key part of his ruling was based on the fact that the city employee who operated the spray truck had never received formal training in applying pesticides or using using the machine. The. employee also testified that he had no knowledge of the dangers of pesticide or how to take precautions to protect people.

Michatel Javoronok, Amtels' attorney, said the case points out the need for city workers to be trained.

"You've got to know what you're spraying, how it works and then what's the downside so you can prevent injury to vourself and anyone who maybe be a bystander," the Gering attorney said.

He said Anthony's condition has not changed since his 1994 exposure to the pesticide.

"His condition was more or less the same. He was trying to do the best he could with what he had," Javoronok said.

Other witnesses at the trial offered conflicting testimony on whether or not the exposure to the pesticide caused Anthony's seizures.

Timothy Creger,, supervisor of the pesticide inspection program for the State Department of Agriculture, investigated the incident two days after Anthony's initial seizure.

It was his opinion that Anthony's symptoms were not in line with Malathion exposure.

Kathey Verdeal, an environmental toxicologist, testified that Anthony had suffered a toxic reaction to the pesticide. Wayne Roth-Nelson, who is a health-risk scientist, also testified that it was reckless of the spray-truck operator not to stop spraying when he saw the children.

The spray-truck operator said he did not know how to use the remote control to temporarily turn the machine off..

In Tuesday's opinion, the appellate judges ruled that there was sufficient evidence to uphold the District Court verdict.

"Clearly, the city had a duty to exercise reasonable care in applying pesticides throughout Bridgeport. It is equally clear that the city, through its employees, took no measures to protect its citizens during the spraying for mosquitoes," the appellate court wrote.

Malathion is a popular chemical used to kill mosquitoes. The spray used by the City of Bridgeport contained 1.31 percent Malathion. The rest was a petroleum distillate or a mineral spirit.

Kramer, the state entomologist, said he believes that Malathion is safe. He does not believe that Malathion harmed the child.

"There is absolutely no way that Malathion caused this problem. They weren't spraying enough Malathion to kill mosquitoes," he said.

However, Kramer said, the city's lack of training left it vulnerable for a lawsuit..

I've tried to use it as a motivating factor to get communities to do it the right way" and attend seminars, he said.

Copyright 2000 Omaha World-Herald Company. All rights reserved

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