Articles Posted in Work Injury

In a recent Tennessee construction accident, an appellate decision was announced after a construction worker fell from scaffolding while working in a factory. The worker ran an extension cord over the warehouse floor so that he could reach an outlet in which to plug in a screw gun that he would use to put in sheetrock during renovation. The factory owner’s employee drove a forklift over the extension cord, which dislodged scaffolding. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the factory owner, finding there weren’t any factual disputes and no duty to warn.

The case arose when the plaintiff was employed by a subcontractor of a contractor hired to renovate an LLC’s warehouse. When he fell, the plaintiff was using a screw gun to install sheetrock on an inner wall. The screw gun was plugged into a 100-foot extension cord. He said the use of the extension cord was needed because the only source of electricity was in another place in the warehouse. As the sheetrock was being installed the defendant’s employee had moved product through the door with a forklift.

The plaintiff and his brother had hung sheetrock in that same spot for three days before the accident. On the accident date, the factory employee drove a forklift in reverse through the door and didn’t see the extension cord or the plaintiff. The cord got tangled up in the forklift and triggered the plaintiff’s fall 10 feet down to the concrete floor.

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When a defendant causes a plaintiff’s injury, it is generally understood that the plaintiff can bring a lawsuit against the defendant if there is a basis to do so. For example, if the defendant rear ends the plaintiff in a car accident, the plaintiff may sue for those injuries. Or if a defendant fails to maintain his property safely and knowingly allows dangerous conditions to occur, and a plaintiff is injured, a lawsuit may be possible. In some instances, however, the state of Tennessee wants to prohibit lawsuits for certain public policy purposes. It may do so by making certain defendants immune from liability under certain situations. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at one of these scenarios.

In this Tennessee personal injury case, F.T. was a prison inmate who was working on a work detail building a bridge. He was pouring concrete for the bridge when some of the concrete spilled into his boots. This lead to chemical burns on F.T.’s feet and permanent scarring. F.T. sued Wayne County, where he was incarcerated, for his injuries, asserting they had been negligent in allowing workers to use concrete without necessary protections. Wayne County immediately moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that F.T. was not allowed to sue for injuries that occurred during work detail under Tennessee law. Specifically, it argued that counties operating prisons and work details were immune from liability under Tennessee statute. The lower court reviewed the statute and agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit.

On appeal, F.T. argued with the lower court’s interpretation of the statute. Tennessee’s statute sets forth two categories of individuals who may be placed on work detail: (1) all prisoners sentenced to the county workhouse and (2) any prisoner sentenced for a period of less than a year to the workhouse or to county jail.  The statute further stated that not state or municipal agency or official should be liable to any prisoner who is injured on a work detail.  F.T. argued that the immunity provision of the statute should be interpreted only to apply to categories (1) and (2) of prisoners and not all prisoners on work detail. Because he was not one of these two categories, F.T. argued that Wayne County was not immune from liability for his injuries.

In premises liability cases we often think of claims as being brought by outside third parties who are visiting a property but have no particular affiliation to it. These can be customers who enter a store, delivery men dropping off a package, or party guests coming over for a night of fun.  Less well known is the fact that premises liability claims also apply to independent contractors and workers who are hired to be on a property for a certain amount of time.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates this fact.

In this construction accident case, E.M. brought claims against CSC Sugar, LLC after he was injured while working at their warehouse. E.M. was a subcontractor employee who had been hired to renovate CSC’s warehouse. At the time of the accident he was up on scaffolding using a screw gun to secure sheetrock to an interior wall. Because the warehouse had limited electricity available, E.M.’s screw gun was connected to a one hundred foot extension cord that ran to the nearest outlet. Based on where E.M. was working at the time, the extension cord crossed an open doorway that was being used by CSC employees. At the time of the accident, one CSC employee drove a forklift over the doorway, the forklift became entangled with the extension cord and the snare pulled the screw gun and the scaffolding that E.M was located on, causing E.M. to fall ten feet to the concrete below. E.M. sued CSC for damages, arguing that CSC failed to maintain its property in a a reasonably safe condition.

At the motion for summary judgment state, CSC argued that E.M. had in fact caused the dangerous condition because he arranged the extension cord across the doorway, and he was aware of this condition, and on this basis there was no failure of CSC to exercise reasonable care or warn E.M. of the dangerous situation. Accordingly, the lower court granted CSC’s motion for summary judgment and E.M. appealed.

For most Americans, the risk of injuries on a day-to-day basis is very low, with little worry that one will be habitually exposed to dangers such as a reckless driver, a hole in the ground, or an icy porch. For some, though, there are inherent risks in the work they do every day, arising from exposure to dangerous environmental conditions and elements. The risk of a Tennessee work injury is particularly high for people who work in the coal mining industry, which, for many years, has been proven to lead to serious health issues. In order to address these known complications, Congress passed the Black Lung Benefits Act, which entitles certain coal miners to benefits if they become physically disabled as a result of their coal mining work. A recent case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals looked at what is required in order to qualify for these benefits.

In this administrative appeal case, R.D. filed a claim for black lung benefits after he was rendered fully disabled due to black lung disease and a lifetime spent working in the coal mines. During the pendency of his claims, he passed away, and his wife brought a claim for survivor’s benefits. R.D.’s claim was granted by the administrative law judge who heard the case and was appealed by the defense insurer, who requested a full hearing. After the full hearing, R.D.’s claim was again granted. The insurer appealed again to the administrative board, which also affirmed the grant of benefits. Finally, the insurer appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

Under the Black Lung Benefits Act, a claimant can qualify for benefits if he or she shows that (1) he or she is a miner (2) who suffers from black lung disease (3) arising out of coal mining employment (4) if it contributed to a partial or total disability. If a claimant shows that he or she worked in a coal mine for at least 15 years, and the work was in an underground mine or conditions substantially similar to an underground mine, there is a rebuttable presumption that the miner was disabled, or killed, by black lung disease. An employer or insurer may rebut the presumption by showing that the miner did not have black lung disease, or that any respiratory illness suffered by the miner did not arise from coal mine employment.

Most homeowners have, at any given time, hired a repairman or handyman to take care of some sort of project at their home. Whether fixing an appliance, building a new staircase, or correcting faulty electrical wiring, the need for help can often seem endless.  For most homeowners, the though of what would happen if a repairman injured himself while at their home never crosses their mind. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, however, addresses this exact issue after an injury during a paint job.

In this negligence case, M.E. was hired by his boss, M.T. to perform a side job at her home for her after hours. She needed various parts of the exterior of her home repainted and M.E. agreed to do so. On the first day he arrives, M.T. provided M.E. with paint, tools, and ladders to access the house. Shortly thereafter, M.T. left and did not return to the home for the next few days.

While working on the home, M.E. claimed to have experienced problems with the ladders he was provided and believed them to be faulty. Nonetheless, he wanted to finish the job so he continued to use them. On the third day, after climbing up the ladder to paint the eaves, the ladder fell out from underneath him and he tumbled to the ground, injuring his wrist.  M.E. then sued M.T. for failing to provide him with safe equipment and protect him while on her property.

If you are injured while on the job, you may find that there are multiple parties who potentially may be liable for your damages. If you were in the course of your employment when you were injured, your employer may be required to pay for your medical expenses and lost wages through your workers’ compensation program because the injuries occurred while you were working. At the same time, if a third party was involved in the accident that caused your injury, for instance if they ran into a vehicle that you were driving for work, they may also have some liability for your injuries. But this does not mean that you can recover from both your employer and the third party. As discussed in a recent court case, if doing so would require you to sue a co-worker or fellow employee, recovery from both may be precluded in Tennessee.

In this recent Tennessee car accident case, C.W. and J.B. were carpooling to work when they were involved in a motor vehicle accident. After the accident occurred, C.W. filed for workers’ compensation benefits from his employer at the time, Progression. Progression did not dispute that the accident and C.W.’s injuries had occurred on the job and paid C.W.’s benefits. Shortly thereafter, C.W. also filed suit against J.B., arguing that J.B.’s negligence in driving the vehicle had caused his injuries. J.B. moved for summary judgment on the claim, arguing that since C.W. had previously asserted that his injuries occurred in the course of his employment, his exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation, and he was precluded from bringing tort claims against J.B. The court granted the motion, finding that C.W. had previously represented that the accident occurred as part of his employment, and, as a result, Tennessee law provided that workers’ compensation was his exclusive remedy. It therefore dismissed the case, and C.W. appealed.

On appeal, C.W. argued that the court erred in concluding that just because he sought workers’ compensation benefits he was precluded from filing separate tort claims. Under Tennessee law, the right to receive workers’ compensation benefits excludes a plaintiff from other claims for injury. However, Tennessee law also provides that when a worker recovers against a third party, an employer may recover for costs paid through workers’ compensation. Reviewing the case law, the Court of Appeals noted that workers may sometimes be permitted to recover against entirely separate third parties for their injuries, but employers may be reimbursed for expenses they have paid. However, these third parties do not include other employees, who are, in fact, a part of the “employment” and fall within the scope of workers’ compensation. If a co-employee caused the accident, it is the employer that will be liable, but the employer is already liable under the workers’ compensation scheme. Thus, the dual claims against the employer cannot succeed.

If you’ve been severely injured in a Tennessee car accident, you may be able to access workers’ compensation funds if the car accident occurred while performing work for an employer. Workers’ compensation provides payments to an injured employee to cover lost wages and medical expenses. If the employee suffers a partial or total disability, he or she may receive a lump sum or series of payments to cover the wages that cannot be earned as a result of the disability. If the employee dies as a result of the workplace injury, the estate or family may recover the designated benefits.Workers’ compensation was designed to provide employees with quicker access to funds while shielding an employer from liability. However, this does not prevent an injured party from pursuing damages in a negligence action against other parties who share responsibility for the injuries.

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently issued an opinion stemming from a workplace car accident that caused a carpenter to suffer numerous serious injuries. The accident fractured the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck and herniated discs in his lower back. The injured carpenter underwent surgery to alleviate his neck pain, but he still experienced back pain whenever he bent forward or backward. After reviewing the carpenter’s complaints, the surgeon recommended additional surgery to help heal the residual pain. The insurance company denied the coverage for surgery, due to the peer review performed by three other physicians, who did not think surgery was necessary. The additional request for epidural steroid injections was also denied. To manage the pain, the carpenter took opiates. When the pain became too great, he took a greater amount of medicine than prescribed and consumed alcohol. The injured carpenter admitted this to a pain management specialist, and he agreed to take his medication as directed and call before adjusting his dose.

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A duty of reasonable care can arise in many different types of circumstances. We often think of duties owed by professionals, business owners, or landlords, but the average individual also owes a duty of care when he or she takes on activities in which carefulness and safety are necessary.  In a recent case before the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, the court took a look at one scenario in which such a duty may arise:  while working with ladders in possibly dangerous conditions.

In Hoynacki v. Hoynacki, the plaintiff, Hoynacki Jr., was helping his father, Hoynacki Sr., wax his father’s RV. Since the RV was so tall, they used a five-foot ladder to reach the upper portions of the RV. When Hoynacki Jr. would get on the ladder, his father would hold the ladder for him until he determined that it was stable, and then Hoynacki Jr. would proceed to wax.  At one point, toward the end of their work, Hoynacki Jr. climbed the ladder while it was on sloped ground. Although the four feet of the ladder touched the ground, when Hoynacki Jr. went to descend the ladder, it tipped over, and he fell, resulting in serious injuries. He sued his father, alleging that his father had failed to exercise reasonable care by not holding onto the ladder while Hoynacki Jr. was working, or assisting him when he descended. Hoynacki Sr. moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted it, finding that he did not owe a duty of care to his son. Hoynacki Jr. appealed.

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Central to every negligence claim in Tennessee is the requirement that a defendant actually owe a duty to a plaintiff.  The question of whether one owes a duty to another party often turns on the relationship between the two parties. For instance, an employer may owe a different duty to an employee than he or she owes to an independent contractor. And these duties are likely to be entirely different from any duty the employer may owe, if at all, to a total stranger.  For property owners, the duty owed to those who venture onto their property typically depends on whether the visitor was invited, there for purposes of business, or simply a trespasser.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed the duty owed to a special category of individuals:  volunteers.

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When injuries occur while an individual is taking on a task related to work, complicated legal issues can arise. Generally, injuries that occur on the job are addressed through a state’s workers’ compensation system. Workers’ compensation laws preclude employees from filing suit for personal injuries against an employer, but instead they provide that the employee is compensated for time off work and medical bills. But what happens when an employee is injured as a result of a third party’s actions, rather than the actions of the employer?  Can negligence or other tort claims be brought against that individual or entity? A recent case in the Sixth Circuit looks at the question of whether individuals can bring suit for personal injuries against contractors with which their employer was working.

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