Robins Kaplan Secures Landmark $7.75 Million Verdict in Aerosol Duster Misuse Case

By Rashanda Bruce

June 2024

Insights from a Trial Team Lawyer

In April 2024, Robins Kaplan attorneys secured a groundbreaking $7.75 million verdict against CRC Industries, Inc., a manufacturer of aerosol dusters. The verdict stemmed from a tragic 2019 incident when Cynthia McDougall was killed after a driver huffed CRC Duster, lost control of his vehicle, crossed over the center line into oncoming traffic, and struck Mrs. McDougall’s vehicle head on. Aerosol dusters like CRC Duster, typically marketed as a dust and lint remover, contain the gas 1,1-Difluoroethane (DFE) and are commonly misused to get “high.” When huffed, users experience significant impairing effects from the DFE.

While the driver had already been found accountable for his actions through the criminal justice system, CRC Industries had not. CRC’s lack of accountability was critical to Rashanda Bruce, an associate in the firm’s Mass Tort and Personal Injury groups, whose practice focuses on representing individuals and families in complex personal injury and wrongful death cases.

“I have always had a passion for helping people,” she says. “In 2010, I started at Robins Kaplan as a case assistant. I became a paralegal in the mass tort department and held that role until departing for law school. During that time, I learned firsthand how important tort law and product safety is through cases like Chantix and Stryker Hip Implants. So, for me, litigating the dusting cases against product manufacturers was an opportunity to do hard but important work for people like the McDougalls.”

Rashanda rejoined the firm as an associate in February 2020 and became an instrumental member of the dusting team. From the beginning, Rashanda was involved in all aspects of the McDougall case, including helping draft the complaint, completing fact and expert discovery, and arguing and defeating summary judgment. At trial, one of her roles included cross-examining the driver, an assignment for which she felt immense responsibility.

“Unlike our other dusting cases, the driver who crashed into Mrs. McDougall has never admitted to huffing. So, in addition to proving that CRC failed to take reasonable steps to protect against the foreseeable misuse of its product, our team had to prove that, one, the driver huffed CRC Duster while driving on the day of the crash, and two, the driver’s actions were intentional. A yes from the jury to these two questions meant CRC would be responsible for all awarded damages, regardless of how much fault the jury attributed to the driver and CRC. As the attorney cross-examining the driver, I wanted a ‘yes’ for accountability and justice for the McDougalls,” Rashanda says. 

Aerosol dusters are a cheap and easy way to get high that are undetected by routine drug screens. These characteristics made aerosol dusters appealing to the driver, who was on probation at the time of the McDougall crash. During Rashanda’s cross-examination, the driver admitted that he huffed aerosol dusters in the past to avoid detection while on probation. The driver also admitted that if during the trial he testified that he huffed CRC Duster prior to the crash, it would be a problem. Additionally, the driver admitted he had lied to Rashanda under oath during his deposition about using duster at work.

“I knew the driver had given various versions about why he had CRC Duster and what led to the crash, but I did not expect him to admit to lying to me under oath. When he did, I hoped it would be enough for the jury to answer ‘yes’ to those questions.” Ultimately, that is exactly what happened. After 15 witnesses, two weeks of trial, and approximately 10 hours of deliberations, the jury found CRC 22.25% at fault, attributing the rest to the driver but holding CRC responsible for the entire verdict amount due to the driver’s intentional acts.

Following the $7.75 million verdict on liability, a second phase of the trial was held on the issue of punitive damages. Although the jury did not award punitive damages, they attached a note to their verdict stating, “[a]fter much deliberation, we, as the jury, have agreed that we expect CRC to use this as an opportunity to be a leader in their industry and spearhead an effort to address inhalant abuse,” noting that “testimony and evidence shows that there is much more that could be done to combat the misuse of aerosol products, ESPECIALLY, Duster.”

The jury closed with the following message: “Please do not confuse our decision not to award punitive damages with a lack of regard for the loss of Cindi McDougall. Our hearts go out to her husband, son, family and community.”

Robins Kaplan has represented over a dozen families whose loved ones have been injured or killed due to aerosol duster misuse, but the McDougall case was the only one to go to trial. The groundbreaking decision marks the first time a jury has held an aerosol duster manufacturer accountable for misuse of its product.

McDougall v. CRC Industries, Inc., et al. was not Rashanda’s first Robins Kaplan trial. “I have known since I was 14 that I wanted to be a lawyer, but I did not appreciate what it meant to be a ‘trial lawyer’ until about 14 years ago, when I joined one of the firm’s case teams headed to trial. My experience was invaluable. Through that case and others, including McDougall, I have only deepened my passion and knowledge.”

While she helped obtain a favorable verdict in this case, she acknowledges that practicing in this area of law can be challenging. “I represent clients who have suffered a loss, and I cannot undo their harm or bring their loved one back. But what I remind myself that I can do, and what I remain committed to doing, is helping hold wrongdoers accountable and obtaining some measure of justice for families. That is what matters to me and what I sought out to accomplish in this case. It was and will always be my honor to have represented the McDougalls and our other clients in these cases.”

The trial team, led by Philip Sieff and Tara Sutton, included Rashanda Bruce, Michael Reif, Julie Reynolds, Lisa Weyrauch, Robin Dusterhoft, Mandy Guttormson, Ginny Barker, Nick Adler, Pao Lee, and the trial support team.

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