Cryogenic Cloud Caused I-85 Pile-up and Fatality

Attorneys Gary Poliakoff and Ray Mullman were able to prove that the release of a cryogenic cloud resulted in a pile-up of tractor-trailers on I-85, causing serious injuries and a fatality.

Proof of creation of the cloud from a nearby industry was developed by use of expert witnesses, even though the Plaintiff had no eyewitnesses to the cloud’s creation.

Drivers on I-85 on the night of Nov. 4, 1997, reported entering a thick white cloud in the southbound lane, so dense that all vision was obscured. Within seconds, three tractor-trailers collided, severely injuring people and causing the death of trucker James Madding. Within minutes of the collision, the drivers reported that the cloud completely disappeared.

Since two nearby industries reported no releases of clouds or vapors that night, Plaintiffs had to prove the origin of the cloud without witnesses to the origin. Utilizing extensive investigative techniques, circumstantial evidence and testimony of experts, attorneys Poliakoff and Mullman proved the origin of the cloud, its causation, its travel to the highway and the resulting vehicle pile-up.

When cryogenic gas such as liquid oxygen or liquid nitrogen is released to the atmosphere, a thick, white, low-lying cloud is produced. To prove that a cloud had escaped from nearby industry, Plaintiff’s attorneys recruited top experts in their fields, including Dr. Thomas Flynn, former chief of the United States Cryogenic Facility, author of two textbooks on cryogenics, and trainer of cryogenics engineers for NASA and the US Navy, and David Sullivan, a climatologist and accomplished air modeler, whose air models have won EPA approval. With the circumstantial evidence obtained through intricate investigation, the experts helped prove the origin and movement of the cloud, and eliminated other sources, such as natural fog or smoke.

“In this case, hard work and finding the right experts won the case,” said lead attorney Gary Poliakoff.

The case proceeded to trial in Federal Court in Spartanburg, SC, on Jan. 8, 2001. After a day of testimony, the Defendant paid a $1.3 million settlement, a victory for the Plaintiffs. US District Court, Spartanburg, SC.