The Alabama Supreme Court has revived two lawsuits filed after one worker was killed and another seriously injured when they were struck by a tanker truck on the job.
The two worked at a recycling company. Although the exclusive remedy provisions of workers’ compensation law make it nearly impossible to sue employers for work-related injuries, the two plaintiffs took action against three third-party defendants, including a lead company across the street that had assumed responsibility for safety inspections.
According to court records, the work accident happened in November 2010, at the recycling plant where the two men worked. Decedent was a supervisor in the shipping department and the injured man was training to become a supervisor in that same department.
The business model involved selling recycled plastic. The company would purchase scrap plastic in baled plastic bottle form. Once the plastic had been washed, it was converted into recycled pellets and then sold to the packaging industry. These recycled pellets were shipped in tanker-trailers that were hauled by semi-tractors.
On the day in question, the truck was supposed to back in and out of the hold where the plastic pellets were kept.
The driver was trained, but says he was never instructed to use a spotter and was never given any instruction on safety policies or procedures regarding use of the semi-trailer to back the tanker-trailer into the loading bay. Still, he said he had done so “a thousand times” without a problem.
The two workers were reportedly facing the rear of the tanker-trailer and that decedent motioned with his arm for the driver to come back. Driver said he slowly began backing the tanker-trailer into the bay, scanning both sides of the outside rear view mirrors. He said he saw decedent still motioning for him to reverse.
However, he then lost sight of them and assumed they had left and walked toward the product storage silos. However, he felt a bump and heard a scream. He jumped out, and saw the supervisor was dead and the the trainer was severely injured. They had been run over by the tanker.
It was later revealed the lead company across the street was responsible for overseeing compliance with OSHA standards and safety training for those working out of the recycling plant because the plant had no safety department of its own, though supervisors there did conduct biweekly safety meetings. However, the director of health and safety at the lead company said he did not provide instruction to employees at the plant, but did sometimes serve as a “consultant” to the company on safety issues. This involved in-depth quarterly inspections to determine if there were any on-site issues with which OSHA might have a problem.
Families of the two workers involved in this incident filed a third-party liability lawsuit for what happened, alleging the trucking company had affirmatively undertaken a duty to inspect, identify and provide remedies to correct job site safety dangers, and they negligently and wantonly failed in this duty.
The trial court granted summary judgment to defense, but the Alabama Supreme Court reversed. On review, the state high court ruled the the summary judgment motion filed by defendants didn’t challenge evidence tending to show wrongful inspections, and therefore, there wasn’t enough support for a summary judgment.
For this reason, the court reversed and remanded the case for trial.
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