Articles Posted in Industrial Accidents

Industrial accidents are often the result of a chain of events. There are usually multiple parties whose negligence or intentional failures led to an innocent worker’s injury. Of course, when the victim files a lawsuit, these parties are quick to try and deflect blame to one another.

Hill v. Konecranes, Inc.

An ongoing federal lawsuit in Savannah, Hill v. Konecranes, Inc., provides an apt illustration of this principle. This tragic case involves the 2015 death of a crane operator. The victim worked for International Paper Company (IP) in Augusta, where he used a gantry crane to move timber. Konecranes, Inc., was the company responsible for manufacturing and installing the crane. IP also retained Konecranes to perform regular inspections of the gantry crane.

As you probably know, if you are injured on the job, your employer must pay you certain medical and wage replacement benefits under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law. Indeed, workers’ compensation provides what is considered an “exclusive remedy” in these situations. That is to say, you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer so long as it complies with the workers’ compensation law.

The exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation does not apply to potential claims against third parties. For example, if you are driving a company-owned truck on a delivery and get hit by a drunk driver, workers’ compensation does not prevent you from suing that driver. Of course, if you do successfully pursue a personal injury claim against the drunk driver, then your employer may seek to recoup some of the workers’ compensation benefits previously paid to you.

Sprowson v. Villalobos

All Georgia employers are required to have workers’ compensation insurance. This provides medical and wage replacement benefits to employees who are injured in the course of their employment. For example, if you are in a car accident while driving a company-owned vehicle to make a sales call, you would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

What happens when your employer’s insurance company is insolvent, i.e., it cannot pay out your claim? In that case, the Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool takes over. This is a nonprofit entity that effectively steps into the shoes of the insolvent insurer and pays any outstanding workers’ compensation claims.

Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool v. Dubose

In Georgia, workers’ compensation is intended to provide employees with an “exclusive remedy” against their employers for job-related accidents. This means that the employer is required to pay certain benefits, regardless of fault. In exchange, the employee has no legal right to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. The exclusive remedy rule does not, however, apply to third parties whose negligence may have contributed to the accident.

Felker v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

Of course, there are scenarios in which a third party may try and claim protection under the workers’ compensation law as “statutory employers.” Here is a recent example of such an attempt. In this case, Felker v. Tyson Foods, Inc., the plaintiff worked as an electrician. The defendant hired an electrical contractor to assist in some renovation work on one of its facilities. The plaintif, in turn, worked for the contractor.

trainderailment.jpgIn an interesting decision out of the 6th Circuit, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a judgment for CSX Transportation Inc. last week in a case brought by a group of citizens seeking medical monitoring for the small Ohio town of Painesville, after a train derailment in 2007. When the train derailed it was carrying substances that included glycerin, alcohol, ethanol, and butane. All of theses substances are known to be dangerous when inhaled in large quantities, and butane is an extremely volatile substance, and inhaling it can cause, narcosis, asphyxia, and cardiac arrhythmia. After the accident more than 500 families were evacuated in the half-mile area surrounding the site. In addition, some of the 3000 gallons of Ethanol that was spilled leaked into a nearby creek. CSX admitted in court filings that improper track maintenance, including using the wrong size rail as part of a repair, caused the crash.

The residents who brought the suit against CSX were attempting to persuade the court to force CSX to pay for the expense of medically monitoring the area for an extended period of time to assess any risk the spill might be causing to the residents near the site of the derailment. The appeals court said the plaintiffs failed to produce evidence creating a genuine issue. Instead, the court says, that they relied on a conclusory statement by a doctor that, “a reasonable physician would prescribe for the Plaintiff and the putative class a monitoring regime.”

Daniel Bechenel Jr., a lead lawyer in the case, called the derailment an example of railroads putting people in danger and imminent risk by cutting safety precautions and repair standards. Though this may be true, the Appeals Court felt that the overall risk was too small to force CSX to pay for the medical monitoring.

An oil platform exploded and burned off the Louisiana coast Thursday. Last year a story like this would not have made national news, however, following on the heels of the BP Deepwater Horizion disaster people are taking notice. Above is a video of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explaining the details of the newest gulf coast oil explosion. Thankfully, this incident had a substantially different outcome than the BP Gulf Coast disaster. All the rig workers escaped alive and there is no new oil spill.

texascity.jpgBP will pay a record $50.6 Million OSHA fine for numerous safety violations discovered at a Texas City oil refinery last year. The prior record for an OSHA fine, $21 Million, was also issued against BP for multiple safety violations at the exact same Texas City refinery a few years earlier. OSHA issued the previous record holding fine following a deadly explosion at the BP refinery, in March of 2005, that killed 15 people and injured 170. To say BP did not learn it’s lesson following the tragic 2005 explosion is an understatement.

Specifically, in this most recent round of fines, OSHA issued the BP Texas City refinery 709 citations with a total fine exceeding $80 Million, finding the exact same safety problems at the refinery BP was punished for in 2005. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis stated “The size of the penalty rightly reflects BP’s disregard for workplace safety.” BP accepted 270 violations and agreed to pay $50.6 Million, but is still contesting over 400 of the citations.

Jordan Barab, the deputy director of OSHA, when asked whether BP admitted wrongdoing at the Texas City refinery he said “They have recognized and accepted every citation that we have levied on them” related to their failure to correct violations stemming from the 2005 settlement, “That speaks for itself.”

gulfoil.jpgThe U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled that more than 300 cases filed against BP will be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. The lawsuits include multiple wrongful death claims filed by the families of those killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion as well as hundreds of claims filed by Gulf Coast Businesses seeking economic losses.

The Multidistrict panel’s decision is viewed as a huge blow to BP’s defense efforts. BP requested that the panel consolidate the cases to the center of it’s U.S. Operations, Houston, Texas. However, the panel chose New Orleans and provided the following reasoning “without discounting the spill’s effects on other states, if there is a geographic and psychological ‘center of gravity’ in this docket, then the Eastern District of Louisiana is closest to it.”

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As previously discussed in this blog, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), Oil Polution Act (OPA), and the Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA) protect companies like BP from liability when disasters such as the Gulf Coast Oil Spill occur. However, it appears government and public pressure may prevent BP from hiding behind these maritime immunity statutes. The above video is footage from Thursday’s Congressional Hearing on the oil spill. With many calling for a complete boycott of BP, Lamar McKay, Chairman and President of BP America, stated BP will pay all legitimate claims.

Potentially, this is good news for the fishermen, shrimpers, hotels and restaurants damaged by this disaster. Affected small business now must fight over the value of their claims, but if BP keeps it’s word, at least these businesses will not have to worry about capped damages completely precluding their claims. Hopefully, government, media, and public pressure will continue to ensure BP keeps it’s promise to pay for the harms it caused.

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