Did explosion injure off-site employee?

by on July 12, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think OSHA (or the courts) ruled?

“I’m sorry you feel you were injured,” said supervisor Al Grant. “But the explosion on our plant grounds happened a quarter-mile away from you. You weren’t hurt in the least.”

“I’m not imagining my medical problems,” said Warren. “Since the explosion, I’ve suffered jaw pain. My doctor says I also have insomnia and depression. And I didn’t have any of those problems before the explosion.”

“Whatever problems you have aren’t related to the explosion,” said Al. “You heard a big boom – that’s all.”

“I’ve talked to a lawyer, and he says that I have a case against the company,” said Warren. “I’ve warned this company about build-ups of pressurized gas for years, and you did nothing.”

“Not true,” said Al. “Our safety director and engineers were working on the problem at the time of the explosion.”

Warren sued for a payout beyond workers comp, saying he was injured in the explosion and that the company ignored warnings. The company asked for a dismissal. Did it get it?

The Decision
No, a judge refused to dismiss the case and said a jury could hear Warren’s claims.

The judge made a strange distinction: The court held that the explosion didn’t cause Warren any direct injuries. However, the incident may have caused Warren’s indirect injuries (e.g., his depression, insomnia and jaw pain).

A jury would need to decide:

  • whether the company was reckless in ignoring Warren’s safety warnings, and
  • whether any recklessness could have resulted in Warren’s suffering indirect injuries.

Companies will usually settle cases like these on the courthouse steps rather than risk a blockbuster verdict in favor of the employee. Juries often side with employees in cases like this out of sympathy.

Helping workers in the aftermath
This case shows that employees may need assistance coping with trauma – even if they’re not directly injured. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Huddle with your safety director and HR to determine what counseling assistance your company offers. Then inform workers what services are available and who to contact for more information within your company.
  • Keep an eye out for workers who are having a difficult time in the aftermath. Look for sudden changes in mood, anger or depression that last too long. Not all workers will come forward on their own. If you suspect someone’s suffering, refer them to HR.

Cite: Dekelaita v. BP Amoco, No. 07-0131 S.D. Texas.

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