Thursday, 18 April, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalUS flight attendants win chemicals-in-uniforms case

US flight attendants win chemicals-in-uniforms case

A Californian jury has ruled that a clothing company should pay more than $1m to four American Airlines flight attendants who blamed chemicals – used in the making of their uniforms – for causing health ailments, including rashes, headaches and breathing problems.

The verdict last week could be just the tip of the iceberg as lawyers say they represent more than 400 other staff who are making the same claims against the uniform maker.

The judge has not affirmed the jury’s decision, but a lawyer for the flight attendants called that step a technicality, reports ABC News.

The uniform maker's lawyers declined to say whether they will appeal.

New but problematic

The airline provided new uniforms to flight attendants in 2016, but complaints soon followed, however.

“I would wake up with my eyes completely swollen. I looked as if I had been in a boxing match,” said Tracey Silver-Charan, who has been in the field for 37 years.

“I was unable to breathe. I often felt as if I were going to pass out on the job.”

She is one of a group of flight attendants who sued in 2017, among four involved in the bellwether trial in Alameda County Superior Court near San Francisco to see how a jury would view the case.

The jury decided that the uniforms provided by Twin Hill Acquisition Co were a “substantial factor in causing harm” to the staff.

However, jurors said the company was not negligent in its design of the garments nor in failing to recall them when complaints began to pour in.

Twin Hill could ask the judge to reduce the jury award and could appeal the verdict, but a lawyer for the company declined to comment.


In their lawsuit, the flight attendants claimed their uniforms contained traces of formaldehyde, toluene and other toxic chemicals linked to health problems. Resins containing formaldehyde have been used in fabric for years to keep clothes wrinkle-free and make them last longer.

A 2010 study by congressional researchers found that formaldehyde levels in clothing are generally low, but some people suffer allergic reactions, including rashes, blisters, and itchy or burning skin.

Washing clothes before wearing them can help, but doesn’t always work, the researcher said.

The flight attendants’ lawyers put on witnesses who testified about a 2018 study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, who reported finding a link between new uniforms and health complaints by Alaska Airlines attendants.

However, lawyers for Twin Hill produced witnesses who discounted the potential health effects of the uniforms.

Silver-Charan said none of the defence experts ever talked to her or asked to test her uniform for chemicals.

The jury proposed $320 000 in lost income and pain and suffering for Silver-Charan and $750 000 in damages for Brenda Sabbatino – the two attendants chosen by their lawyers.

Defence lawyers selected two others who had reported less severe health effects. For them, the jurors proposed $10 000 and $5 000 in damages.

“It’s been a long road, but we’re very happy with the outcome,” said Daniel Balaban, one of the lawyers for the airline employees. He said that other cases could go to trial if Twin Hill declines to settle them.


ABC News article – Flight attendants who blamed uniforms for their health issues win a lawsuit (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Beauticians and barbers have higher ovarian cancer – Canadian study


Parkinson’s disease linked to common chemical – global study


US states crack down on toxic ‘forever chemicals’




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