Aug. 2006 – Injured worker recounts accident

QC Times. Steven Martens. August 2, 2006.

Injured worker recounts accident

CLINTON, Iowa — Nathan Nissen told a Clinton County jury Tuesday he remembers very little about the day an anhydrous ammonia tank ruptured, seriously injuring him and killing co-worker Bob Ryan in 2003.

Nor does he remember anything about the first 65 days of his hospital stay that followed.

But he carries the reminders with him all the time — on his skin, in his lungs and in his dreams.

Ryan, 68, was credited with saving the life of Nissen, now 27, after the two men suffered serious chemical burns when the tank ruptured at the River Valley Cooperative facility near Calamus. Ryan dragged Nissen to a water tank that only had room for one person and submerged him. Nissen eventually recovered, but Ryan died 13 days after the accident.

The Nissen and Ryan families filed suit, and three of the companies named in the case have settled for $2.25 million, most of which will go to reimbursing funds received from workers’ compensation, according to their attorney, Donald Beattie.

Heritage Trails, the company hired by River Valley to provide safety training to its employees, is still contesting the case. In addition, the three companies that settled and Heritage Trails are seeking compensation from Trinity Industries, the manufacturer of the tank.

Nissen told jurors Tuesday he was planning to deliver a tank of anhydrous ammonia to a farmer, and was in the process of hooking the tank trailer to the back of a pickup truck with Ryan nearby when the tank ruptured.

“I remember hitting the back of the pickup truck, and that was it,” he said.

Nissen went through a series of skin graft surgeries. He stood in front of the jury box Tuesday, lifting his shirt and pulling up the legs of his pants to show his scars.

Nissen said the worst scarring is in the areas behind his knees, which he said feel tight, especially in the morning.

“There’s no worse feeling in the world than waking up and feeling like you’re pulling your skin off,” he said.

The scarring has made his skin sensitive to heat, cold and sunlight, and often causes people to stare at him, Nissen said. He recalled one incident that happened not long after he left the hospital when he was still in a wheelchair.

“Some lady told me I shouldn’t be in there because I was too young,” he said.

Because the anhydrous ammonia fumes burned the protective lining out of his lungs, Nissen said he is very prone to respiratory problems and has had bronchitis three or four times this year alone. He said his respiratory problems have forced him to give up playing softball because he can’t run well, and he had to give up playing in pool league because he can’t stand to be in a smoke-filled bar.

Nissen said the vision in his right eye also is deteriorating. He said he has been through three prescriptions for glasses in the past year.

He told the jury he also battles bouts of depression and has trouble sleeping, dreaming often about the accident and his co-worker.

“I still dream about Bob,” he said. “I just keep telling him I wish he was here.”

Nissen became emotional at times during his testimony, as did his family and supporters in the gallery. At one point, the court administrator brought a box of tissues to a member of the jury.

The trial is expected to continue through the week.