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Court awards NIS 3.5 million to family whose daughters died in pesticide accident

Exterminator ordered to pay compensation for using prohibited compound that killed sisters aged 1 and 4 in 2014; emergency clinic also to pay as doctor did not listen to family

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Avigail and Yael Gross (Courtesy of the Gross family)
Avigail and Yael Gross (Courtesy of the Gross family)

An insect exterminator and an emergency clinic were ordered Sunday to pay a total of NIS 3.5 million (approximately $1.1 million) in compensation to a family whose young daughters died eight years ago from exposure to a poisonous compound that was used as a pesticide in their Jerusalem apartment.

The Jerusalem District Court found the exterminator, Yossi Barkan, had used a prohibited chemical and that a doctor at the Terem emergency clinic where the family took their sick children had misdiagnosed their symptoms, despite being told that pesticide was sprayed in their home.

Avigail and Yael Gross, aged 1 and 4, died in 2014 after an exterminator treated their family home with a poisonous substance that also left their two brothers fighting for their lives.

The court said the exterminator “made use of deadly material that is prohibited to use in a residential apartment, in the knowledge that it is forbidden.”

Regarding the clinic, the court found it bore responsibility because the doctor “did not pay enough attention to what the family said, according to which there had been pesticide sprayed in their apartment, and did not look into the significance of that possibility. He had indeed been able to prevent the result.”

Attorneys for the Gross family said in a statement “there is no price for life that was cut short at such a young age, but there is a little consolation in the fact that the court has set a standard of conduct that may prevent the recurrence of similar cases in the future,” Channel 12 news reported.

In the family’s home in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood of Jerusalem, Barkan used aluminum phosphide, which, when mixed with water, reacts to release phosphine, an extremely harmful gas. The exterminator reportedly left a container of the poisonous material inside a room that he sealed with masking tape, intending to return to continue his work.

The Gross couple sought medical help later that evening after their children began suffering from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. They took their children to a Terem emergency clinic, believing it was a case of food poisoning.

Doctors told the parents to use painkillers and then get stomach medication in the morning if the symptoms continued. However, the following day the family was severely stricken by the fumes.

Eventually, they were all rushed to the hospital but doctors were unable to save the girls’ lives.

The two boys, who were put on ECMO machines that provide both cardiac and respiratory support, suffered severe damage to their cardiac muscles that left doctors fighting to save their lives. They remained in the hospital for nearly a month.

Following the deaths of the two sisters, the clinic issued a statement expressing regret over the loss of life, but claimed the tests carried out indicated no symptoms of poisoning.

Yossi Barkan, the exterminator who left the poison that led to the deaths of young sisters Avigail and Yael Gross attends a court hearing in Jerusalem District Court on January 26, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Aluminum phosphide, also known by its trade name phostoxin, was found in “very, very high concentrations” in the apartment, authorities said at the time. The Environmental Protection Ministry, which oversees pest control, said that though the pesticide was approved for use in Israel, the dosage used at the house was apparently well over that suitable for domestic use.

Barkan was indicted in 2017 after reaching a plea bargain that saw him serve a relatively short sentence of three years in prison.

The Gross family agreed to the deal, having accepted the claim that Barkan suffered from “problematic health at the time of the incident,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement at the time.

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