Hospital not subject to penalties for worker's fall in elevator shaft
Case name: Hardin Memorial Hospital v. Hornback, No. 2011-CA-001707-WC (Ky. Ct. App. 02/24/12).
Ruling: The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that a hospital was not subject to penalties after a worker's fall in an elevator shaft.
What it means: In Kentucky, a safety penalty cannot be imposed upon an employer without a finding that the violation was intentional.
Summary: A worker at a hospital was alone in an elevator when it stalled between two floors. Coworkers opened the door and attempted to assist her out of the elevator. She fell backward into the elevator shaft and down four stories. She suffered multiple injuries. A hospital pamphlet specified that if a passenger became trapped in the elevator, the passenger should be removed by a fire department or rescue squad. The worker claimed that her injuries were caused by the hospital's failure to comply with safety laws. The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that the hospital was not subject to penalties because it did not intentionally violate its general duty to provide a safe workplace.
The court considered the fact that the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not issue a citation to the hospital. The court also said that the event was unanticipated, and it was responded to by coworkers without direction from the hospital. The court was not convinced that the penalty provision mandates that an employer be the absolute insurer of its employees' safety.
The court concluded that a one-time malfunctioning elevator was not "a condition or activity" that presented a workplace hazard. Although removal from a malfunctioning elevator is a plausible event, it is not a "hazard" recognized by the worker's industry in a hospital environment.
The court also said that a safety penalty cannot be imposed on an employer without a finding that the violation was intentional. "Intentional" requires that the fact finder determine whether the employer ignored or willfully overlooked a safety hazard that was reasonably foreseeable.
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April 19, 2012
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