SCRANTON – Seventy retired and active firefighters from the Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Dunmore fire departments believe their truck sirens are the direct cause for their allegedly suffering permanent hearing damage in the course of their work.
The group of firefighters filed suit through five separate complaints in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas on Aug. 22, all versus Federal Signal Corporation (doing business as “Black Tie”), of Oak Brook, Ill. According to the plaintiffs' attorney, similar cases have been filed in four other Pennsylvania courts.
According to the complaints, the defendant marketed the “Q-Siren” and “e-Q2B” siren devices for use in fire apparatus, including but not limited to, pump trucks, ladder trucks, paramedic vehicles, hook and ladders and other vehicles used by fire departments and fire companies throughout Pennsylvania.
The firefighters say while on duty, they were subjected to “loud, excessive and harmful noise levels” as a result of what they believe were defectively-designed sirens on their department trucks, which resulted in permanent and irreversible hearing loss. The complaints do not detail which fire departments each plaintiff works or worked for.
In 2005, similar complaints of this nature from the plaintiffs were filed against Federal Signal Corporation in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. Years later, Federal Signal Corporation petitioned to have the complaints dismissed for forum non conveniens, a move that was granted on Feb. 24 of this year.
According to the order issued by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen M. Pantle, the plaintiffs had six months to refile their complaints in a “more convenient forum," or in the jurisdiction where the injuries occurred. The plaintiffs recently did so in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas.
In December 2014, a Philadelphia jury absolved Federal Signal Corporation of liability in a case brought by three firefighters, alleging similar claims against the company. It was the fourth such trial to be brought in Philadelphia, with two of the earlier trials also being decided in favor of Federal Signal Corporation.
In April 2016, a Pittsburgh court granted a motion to dismiss a similar case brought by seven firefighters from that city who claimed they suffered hearing loss from Federal Signal Corporation's sirens.
In response to the resolution of that Pittsburgh case, Jennifer Sherman, Federal Signal Corporation's Chief Executive Officer stated at the time, “We are pleased that the court ruled in favor of Federal Signal. We believe strongly in our life-saving siren products, and we will continue to defend them aggressively.”
Still, lawsuits remain pending in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
As for the Lackawanna County litigation, plaintiff attorney Todd J. O’Malley explained he initially referred “a number of [these] cases” to a lawyer in Chicago.
According to O'Malley, that attorney handled them because Federal Signal Corporation was based in Illinois and a series of cases were tried in that jurisdiction, with mixed results for both sides. When the attorney stopped practicing law, O'Malley said the cases were sent back to the localities of their origin.
O'Malley said this resulted in the Pennsylvania-based cases being re-filed in Scranton, Allentown, Bethlehem and Pittsburgh, with another lawsuit possibly being re-filed in Boston.
O'Malley alleged a design fix from the company would have brought the sirens into compliance for standard use.
“There is a strong feeling that these sirens were defective and with a simple shroud around them, they would have been much safer and they would not have created the problem,” O'Malley said.
O'Malley explained this protective shroud, which the company allegedly had under development at the time of manufacture and neglected to tell buyers of the sirens about, would direct the siren's noise forward, rather than blare it all around the fire truck or in a rearward direction to the firefighters on the truck.
“It's a pure design defect, product liability case,” O'Malley stated.
O'Malley added when the plaintiff firefighters' hearing was tested, the level of high-frequency hearing loss was virtually the same in all of their audiograms. This was a phenomenon he called “the firefighter's notch”, using the plaintiffs' professional parlance.
Counsel for the company opposed the claims of the plaintiff firefighters in an official statement.
Federal Signal Corporation’s counsel David Duffy said, “Sirens are vital public safety products and save lives. Federal Signal has strong defenses to these cases and has prevailed in a string of jury trials. Federal Signal is committed to defending its quality siren products and will litigate these cases as necessary.”
For counts of strict liability and negligence, the groups of plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of $50,000, plus interest and costs.
The plaintiffs are represented by O’Malley of O’Malley & Langan in Scranton, and Joseph Cappelli of Bern Ripka Cappelli, in Conshohocken.
The defendant is represented by Duffy and Audrey D. Mense of Thompson Coburn, in Chicago, Ill.
Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas cases 17-CV-4549, 17-CV-4550, 17-CV-4551, 17-CV-4552 & 17-CV-4553
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org