Jury awards $7.8 million in death of Minnesota woman struck by driver high on aerosol huffing

A federal jury in Minnesota has found that the manufacturer of a dust remover must pay $7.8 million in connection with a driver who inhaled the aerosol to get high and caused a two-vehicle crash in far northern Minnesota that killed another motorist was killed.

The ruling in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Friday found CRC Industries liable for the death of 42-year-old Cynthia McDougall in a head-on wreck just outside her hometown of Baudette in July 2019 with a pickup driver sitting under the hood. influence of the inflation of the aerosol can.

McDougall’s husband, plaintiff David McDougall, filed a lawsuit in July 2020, and jurors found the company liable on two counts: that CRC Industries’ computer dust remover Duster was “in a defective condition (and) unreasonably dangerous to users of or those exposed to the product”, and that the design caused the death of Cynthia McDougall.

Cynthia McDougall and her husband are survived by a 15-year-old son, Jonah.

The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that CRC “provided inadequate warnings to the user of the product regarding the potential harm the user and innocent bystanders may experience as a result of inhaling CRC Duster.”

A second phase of the trial focused on whether CRC should be required to pay damages in addition to the $7.75 million in damages. The jurors refused to do this, but added a note to the verdict sheet that read:

“We expect CRC will use this as an opportunity to lead their sector and lead an effort to tackle inhalant abuse. … Testimony and evidence show that much more can be done to combat aerosol abuse, ESPECIALLY, Duster.”

Virginia McCalmont, an attorney for the manufacturer, said Thursday that “CRC plans to appeal.”

In addition, a company spokesperson said: “We deeply sympathize with the pain and loss the McDougall family is experiencing. While we understand their desire for accountability in this tragic situation, we strongly disagree with the jury’s verdict. It is unjust to hold a manufacturer responsible for one person’s intentional and unlawful misuse of its products, when reasonable and responsible precautions have been taken.”

The statement from the Pittsburgh-based company added that “we clearly label our products with instructions for safe use and include explicit warnings about the dangers of intentionally inhaling them. We have also played a proactive role in working with our industry and consumer products. Safety Committee (CPSC) to address the social problem of intentional inhalation of aerosols.”

At the scene of the crash, deputies from the Lake of the Woods Sheriff’s Office seized a can of Duster and receipts for several cans of the product from the pickup truck of Kyle A. Neumiller, who was 23 years old at the time, when he exceeded the center line and struck McDougall’s SUV, according to the charges against him. Neumiller was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to six years in prison.

The jury awarded 75% of the blame for Cynthia McDougall’s death to Neumiller, who was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, and the balance to CRC.

Despite placing most of the blame on Neumiller, “Cynthia McDougall’s tragic death would have been entirely avoided,” the wrongful death lawsuit read, “had CRC Industries not defectively designed, defectively manufactured, distributed and sold knowing that it was reasonably foreseeable that someone would inhale CRC Duster to get high while driving and attack and kill innocent bystanders such as Cynthia McDougall.

The chemical in Duster and similar products that causes the addictive high is called DFE. When inhaled, it is sedative and can cause a host of debilitating symptoms. According to several extensive studies, they include paralysis, unconsciousness and even death.

Last August, the CPSC called the snorting an “unfolding tragedy” and estimated that chasing the cheap high from various easily accessible aerosol cans costs American society more than $1 billion a year.

The agency said it has been notified of 1,115 deaths and 28,800 emergency room visits involving aerosol inhalation in the United States between 2006 and 2022.

In 2018, a driver in western Wisconsin struck a Boy Scout troop while high on computer keyboard cleaner, killing three of the girls and the mother of one. Colten Treu veered off the road and plowed his pickup into a ditch where troops were clearing trash along a rural road in Lake Hallie, about 90 miles east of the Twin Cities. Treu was sentenced to 54 years in prison.