Truck driver’s suit against employer for workplace injuries reinstated

In Meadows v. Massey Coal Services, Inc., the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed a circuit court ruling that summarily denied a dump truck driver's claim against his employer, a coal company. The plaintiff's suit seeks compensation for injuries which he sustained when the truck he was driving slid backwards down a hill at a dump site. The appellate court ruled that a jury trial was necessary to determine whether there were unsafe working conditions at the job site that contributed to causing the truck accident.

Background

The worksite accident occurred in 2007 at the employer's surface mine operation in Twilight, West Virginia. In the early morning hours, while it was still dark, the plaintiff backed his dump truck to dump a load of rock and dirt. The rear wheels sank through an earthen berm and the truck fell approximately 150 feet into a dump pit.

Procedural history

In 2008, the plaintiff filed a "deliberate intent" lawsuit against the employer.

Although employees ordinarily cannot sue employers for workplace injuries, and recovery is generally limited to benefits provided under workers' compensation laws, an exception to this rule permits suits against an employer who acted with deliberate intent to cause the employee's injury.

The plaintiff's suit alleged that the employer created three unsafe work conditions that contributed to the plaintiff's injuries:

  • Inadequacy of the roadway berm at the dump site.
  • Insufficient lighting.
  • Lack of a spotter to guide the plaintiff when he was backing up to the edge of the berm.

The circuit court summarily ruled in favor of the employer, finding that a statement made by the plaintiff, that the roadbed had collapsed before his truck reached the berm, proved conclusively that none of the three alleged unsafe work conditions caused the incident.

The ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals

The Supreme Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for trial. The court found that the evidence was conflicting as to how the accident occurred and whether the three unsafe working conditions alleged by the plaintiff contributed to the plaintiff's injuries. Although the plaintiff made a statement that the roadbed collapsed before the berm, the court noted that he was not in the best position to know just what happened. He was backing up a vehicle in the dark and was not able to view the scene before being taken to the hospital.

The employer conducted its own investigation of the incident. Photographs and statements from company employees involved in the investigation indicated that the plaintiff had actually backed his truck through the berm. The court ruled that the plaintiff could rely upon this evidence to substantiate his claim even though the evidence came from an opposing party.

The plaintiff also submitted the report of an expert witness who stated that the berm at the dump site violated Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations that required the berm to have a safety feature that prevents overtravel at dumping locations. Evidence was also presented that the site foreman had failed to inspect the berm at the beginning of the shift. There was also evidence of insufficient lighting at the dump site, and expert evidence that the employer's failure to provide a spotter to assist the plaintiff in maneuvering his truck at the dump pit violated industry standards.

Contact an attorney

Individuals who have been injured in a workplace accident should seek the advice and assistance of a competent personal injury attorney in order to seek full compensation for their injuries.