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'Popcorn lung' lawsuit winner files for bankruptcy

Debilitating workplace injuries can result in victims and their families losing their livelihoods or loved ones, but there are legal remedies that can be pursued. However, even when an accident victim is awarded significant compensation by a court, that person is not immune to bankruptcy further on down the road.

Cleveland readers might be interested in the unfortunate case of a man who won a legal battle against his employer due to a workplace injury, but subsequently lost his battle for fiscal solvency.

The worker's lungs were permanently damaged by exposure to the toxic chemical diacetyl. In 2004, he took his employer to court, where doctors testified that he would eventually require a double-lung transplant. He won a settlement of $20 million to compensate him for his life-changing disability.

Sadly, just eight years later, the man and his wife are now filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, citing assets worth $733,000 and liabilities of $611,000. Their assets include three automobiles, the couple's home, their 10.5 acres of land, plus furnishings, china and other household items. Their creditors include the contractor who built their home, which was estimated to have a value of $3.9 million at the time of its construction.

Even a windfall as large as $20 million can evaporate when financial misfortune strikes, so it is important to be aware of the legal recourse available to those who are no longer able to make payments on their debts. Bankruptcy is an unfortunate fact of life, but it will not be the end of the world for a well-prepared petitioner.

Source: Mineral Wells Index, "Couple that won $20 million lawsuit files for bankruptcy," Oct. 16, 2012

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