In most cases where an employee suffers an industrial plant injury, their potential for legal action is limited to the possibility of filing a claim against a responsible third party and filing for workers’ compensation. But a New Jersey federal court recently ruled that a horrific amputation suffered by a worker at a pharmacy management company is the exception to this rule because the company explicitly chose efficiency over the safety of its employees.
The case involves Brian Sims, an employee at Express Scripts who had to have his arm amputated below the elbow after suffering a 2015 industrial plant injury that crushed and burned his arm. His arm was trapped between two 250-degree metal plates, an incident that could have been prevented had the equipment been equipped with either a lockout feature to keep the machine powered down or a safety guard that powered the machine down when removed, but Sims presented the court with evidence that the pharmacy management company had encouraged its employees to avoid using those mechanisms because they slowed down their internal process.
Judge Rules Against Employer in Industrial Plant Injury Lawsuit
Though New Jersey law generally protects companies from worker injury lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb said that the company’s conduct violates the social contract “so thoroughly that this court is confident that the legislature would never expect it to fall within the worker’s compensation bar.” She pointed to the company’s modifications of the equipment as an “intentional act” that made workers vulnerable to unusual risk, and that this move had voided their protection from litigation.
Mr. Sims has already collected approximately $1 million in workers’ compensation benefits following his industrial plant injury, but later filed his personal injury lawsuit accusing the company of having an unwritten policy against using the safety measures that would have prevented his injury. He provided proof that the company disdained the features because their use shut the machine down for 45 minutes.
Express Scripts first attempted to blame the contractor that had modified the equipment for the industrial plant injury, but the judge rejected that argument because the contractor had been acting on behalf of Express Scripts. She also pointed out that the company had actively interfered with an investigation by OSHA aimed at concealing the fact that the safety guards had been removed at the time of the accident.