In a ruling from Friday, December 28, 2018 that took place in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, a SpaceX worker’s lawsuit filed against a machinery company used by SpaceX was given the go-ahead by a judge to proceed to trial. The worker, Ruben Juarez, who was employed by SpaceX as a programmer from January 2012-March 2014, claims in his lawsuit that a constant exposure to various toxic chemicals while on the job led to his having not only severe migraine headaches, but also a brain aneurysm that required surgery.
In his job as a programmer with SpaceX, Juarez alleges that by having to use a machine manufactured by Precision Valve and Automation Inc., he spent more than 60% of his workday in a room where the machine was located. During his workday, Juarez was responsible for spraying polyuerthane coatings on circuit boards to help protect them from exposure to moisture, dirt, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. However, while he was trained in the proper operation of the PVA 350 machine, his lawsuit also asserts the company trained employees in how to bypass various safety features that would prevent them from being exposed to the chemicals.
According to Juarez’s lawyers, while SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk are not named as defendants in the lawsuit, there are currently 20 unnamed defendants. When asked about the lawsuit, a spokesperson for SpaceX declined to comment on the matter.
After beginning his job with SpaceX in January 2012, Juarez alleges it was not long thereafter that he began to experience a variety of troubling symptoms, including migraine headaches, sinus problems, dizziness, and difficulty walking. Based on Juarez’s medical records, his symptoms first started appearing in August and September of 2012, and by January 2013 he required hospitalization for the aneurysm.
According to court records, over the past six years, Juarez has been hospitalized nine times and has visited emergency rooms or urgent care centers 21 times. On all of these occasions, he has complained of symptoms that have been attributed to chemical exposure. Due to his medical difficulties, Juarez has not been able to work at any job since May or June 2014.
Once the lawsuit was filed by Juarez and his attorneys, Precision Valve and Automation Inc. put forth various motions in court to have the lawsuit dismissed for two reasons, those being that the company did in fact properly train workers on how to use the equipment, and that Juarez filed his lawsuit after the statute of limitations had expired.
However, despite their arguments, Judge Otis Wright of the U.S. District Court Central Division denied the motions of Precision Valve and Automation Inc., stating the case could make its way to trial. Though attorneys for Precision stated the lawsuit was filed after the two-year statute of limitations period, Judge Wright chose to let the lawsuit proceed, in part due to the time it took Juarez to suspect the health problems he was experiencing were due in part to his use of the PV 350 machine. According to court records, Juarez first filed a workers’ compensation claim in September 2014. However, he did not link his health issues to his use of the PV 350 machine until May 2015, and his initial legal complaint was not filed until February 2017.
As this complex case works its way through the legal system, many other manufacturing companies and other similar businesses are closely watching to see what transpires. Meanwhile, since SpaceX is not named in the lawsuit, workers continue to use similar equipment each day in the course of their duties.