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Chicago firefighters win hearing loss suit against siren maker

Editor’s note: In a statement issued by Federal Signal after the verdict, Jennifer Sherman, senior vice president, human resources, general counsel and secretary, said it would be appealing the decision. “We are disappointed with the initial outcome of this trial, particularly in light of the many successes Federal Signal has had over the past several years in defending the company’s life-saving products,” she said.

By Rob Olmstead
The Daily Herald

COOK COUNTY, Ill. — A Cook County jury hit an Oak Brook siren maker with a $425,000 judgment, ruling the company’s siren damaged nine firefighters’ hearing needlessly.

The case is the first of its type that Federal Signal has lost, and represents a huge litigation liability for the company because at least 3,500 other firefighters have lawsuits pending against the company. The company vowed to appeal, according to a news release.

The verdict, rendered Friday, came after the firefighters — all of Chicago — argued through their attorney Jordan Margolis that the company could have designed a safer siren using a higher frequency. That was a shift in strategy after Margolis lost a similar lawsuit in April 2008, when he alleged the company had improperly warned or failed to warn firefighters of the danger to hearing.

Margolis said the company disputed that it owed a duty to firefighters; that it saw the end user of its product as the towns and fire departments who purchased them, and that it tried to allege that safety measures should have been put in place by fire departments or fire truck manufacturers to lock sound out of the cabin.

Margolis argued firefighters were the end user, and Federal Signal was bound to directly protect the firefighters, an argument the jury apparently agreed with.

The verdicts ranged from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on the firefighter’s hearing loss.

“They cannot hear children’s voices, they have trouble hearing their wives,” said Margolis, who noted that they also cannot hear conversation when there is background noise, such as in a restaurant.

Calls to Federal Signal were not immediately returned, but the company’s news release noted that 74 other firefighters who filed in Cook County had their claims dismissed.

Seven of the nine who won their cases continue to work as firefighters, while two have retired.

Republished with permission of The Daily Herald