Questions concerning knowledge of unsafe conduct defeats summary judgment
Case name: Torres v. Cintas Corp. and Lavatech, Inc., No. 08-CV-0185-CVE-TLW (N.D. Okla. 11/13/09).
The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma denied summary judgment to the employer in a wrongful death lawsuit, finding there was conflicting evidence concerning whether managers knew that workers were violating safety rules and failed to stop the violations.
What it means: In Oklahoma, a worker can sue his employer for injuries arising from the employer's intentional conduct by demonstrating that the employer knew the injuries were substantially certain to occur. Evidence that an employer allowed the unsafe conduct to continue after employees were warned and knew similar injuries happened in the past may support a wrongful death claim.
A worker at a Cintas Corp. laundry facility was killed while attempting to dislodge a clothes jam by climbing on a laundry conveyor. Cintas alleged it trained workers on the proper procedures to clear a jam and that the deceased worker received this training. However, there was evidence that Cintas managers did not enforce safety procedures even though they knew that employees were disobeying them. The worker's widow claimed that managers knew employees were climbing onto laundry conveyors and encouraged them to do so to keep up with production.
The court found sufficient evidence to overcome summary judgment for Cintas concerning its knowledge that employees were climbing on the conveyors, its appreciation of the risk to its employees, and whether it failed to stop this practice.
It held a genuine issue existed as to whether Cintas knew with substantial certainty that the worker would be injured by climbing on an energized conveyor. The court denied summary judgment to Cintas, finding the conflicting evidence warranted a jury trial.
Employees were instructed to turn off laundry conveyors and wait for another employee to arrive before trying to dislodge clothes. However, the widow introduced closed-circuit videotape footage that showed multiple incidents of workers climbing on the moving conveyors during the two-week period before her husband's death. Her complaint alleged that the practice of clearing the wet clothes jams by climbing onto the conveyors "was not only foreseeable but expected and actively encouraged by Cintas despite the obvious risk of serious bodily injury and death to employees."
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January 18, 2010
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