Articles Posted in Workplace Accident

Our Atlanta workplace accident lawyers have been following the story of Smiley Plaster Co, which has been cited by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for unsafe working conditions. Smiley Plaster Co. is a stucco and masonry construction company in Twin City.

Scaffolding.jpgOn September 20, 2013, a 42-year-old worker for Smiley fell off a scaffolding at a college dorm at East Georgia State College and died. He was applying stucco at the time. Due to this worker’s death, OSHA investigated Smiley and cited Jack Smiley, the head of Smiley Plaster, for five safety violations, which includes wilfully violating the law. Robert Vazzi, the head of OSHA in Savannah, said, “A worker died after the employer knowingly failed to provide a properly built scaffold system to protect employees from fall hazards. Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. Employers must ensure their workers are protected.” There were 269 fall related fatalities in construction accidents in 2012, out of a total 775 construction related fatalities that year. Due to these dangers, OSHA has a fall prevention campaign developed in partnership with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and NIOSH’s National Occupational Research Agenda program.

A wilful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements or plain indifference to worker safety. Smiley’s wilful violation was for a failure to provide fall protection for workers on scaffolds higher than ten feet. This violation has put Smiley on the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which inspects employers who have shown indifference to the legal safety obligations for their workers.

Stent are metal mesh devices implanted with catheters that open up clogged blood vessels, and they have been implanted into seven million patients in the last ten years, with researchers saying as many as 1/3 of those stents being unnecessary. Eleven hospitals across the US have now settled civil allegations of needless stenting and wrongdoing. Our Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys have been following this issue, and saw a case of a Georgia catheterization clinic, or “cath lab”, that harmed and even caused the death of patients without the hospital taking any steps.

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The instance in Georgia involved Judi Gary, who was a patient at Satilla Regional Medical Center in Waycross, Georgia, in 2005. Najam Azmat attempted to put a catheter in Ms. Gary to put in a stent in an artery which supplies blood to the pelvis and right leg. Nurses in the room, including Evan Gourley, saw blood on the x-ray monitor. When this was pointed out, Azmat claimed there was nothing wrong. Gourley left in disgust after the nurses requested a different vascular surgeon step in, which was refused. It turned out that Azmat had tore Ms. Gary’s aorta. Gourley went to the administrators of the hospital, who had apparently already received seven such reports about Azmat, but they continued to let Azmat work. And one of his later patients died.

Ruth Minter was at Satilla in January 2006 when Azmat attempted to put a stent in an artery near one of her kidneys. He punctured the wall of the kidney in the process and Ms. Minter died 17 days later after massive blood loss. Perhaps worst of all, in a review of the case it was found Ms. Minter didn’t even need the stent that, in addition to Azmat’s negligence, cost her her life. A surgeon who reviewed her case for a lawsuit filed by her family against Azmat and the hospital said, “People who should have and could have saved Mrs. Minter’s life were too interested in having Dr. Azmat continue to do procedures and make money for the hospital to do the right thing.” Research into the Satilla Regional Medical Center show the efforts that hospital administrators went to to keep their cath lab open, even in the face of untold patient injuries.

This blog has discussed the workplace accident problems of the company Norfolk Southern Railroad Co. before (see a previous post here). This week, the Supreme Court of Georgia weighed in on the case of a railroad conductor who was injured in a train accident in Dodge County.

The case is that of William Zeagler who is trying to sue Norfolk Southern for his injuries. In July 2007, Mr. Zeagler, a veteran conductor, was working when the train’s brakeman and engineer realized that a large truck filled with logs wasn’t going to stop at the railroad crossing just ahead of the train. The train was going 35 miles an hour at the time and didn’t have enough time to stop either. As the train was about to hit the truck, Mr. Zeagler felt panicked and unsure what to do, so he tried to jump from the train, tripped over the brakeman, and hit his back and tailbone. Mr. Zeagler has not been able to work since then due to his injuries. The driver of the logging truck died in the crash.

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After the crash, Mr. Zeagler sued Norfolk Southern in Bibb County Superior Court. His lawsuit alleges that Norfolk Southern should have given him training on the proper procedure during an accident, such as sitting and staying low to the floor. He claims he was never trained in emergency procedures. This is an especially important claim since Norfolk Southern has a record of about one accident per day! But the lower court determined that Mr. Zeagler could not sue Norfolk Southern because the company had no duty to provide training and determined there was no evidence that training could have prevented the injuries in the case. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision.

Our Atlanta workplace accident attorneys saw news earlier this month of another tragic workplace accident that occurred at a facility in Georgia due to the company’s safety violations. The company at issue here is Ardagh Glass Inc., the corporate name for Anchor Glass Company, which is a subsidiary of the Ardagh Group based in Tampa, Florida. Ardagh Group has 100 facilities in 25 countries and employs a total of 18,000 people. Ardagh Glass, the company involved, makes glass and metal packaging for food and drinks, including for well known brands like Coca-Cola, Heinz, Del Monte, and various other alcohol brands. The recent accident occurred at the company’s facility in Warner Robins, Georgia, located at 1044 Booth Road.

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In March of this year, an employee was removing a glass mold from a bottle-shaping machine when one of his fingers was amputated and his hand was crushed. After that incident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the US Department of Labor, instituted an investigation under its National Emphasis Program on Amputations. Earlier in July, OSHA cited Ardagh for this incident for one serious (failure to prevent workers from contact with moving parts or molten glass) and one willful (with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard of the legal requirements) safety violation. The violations come from the facilities failure to have lockout/ tagout procedures for workers setting up and servicing equipment.

Bill Fulcher, director of OSHA’s Atlanta-East Area Office, said, “the employer was fully aware that workers reached into the moving machine while they serviced the glass molds, yet nothing was done to protect workers from serious injury. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that proper safety procedures are understood and followed at all times.” As a result, Ardagh was fined by OSHA $77,000.

In April, our Atlanta worker’s compensation lawyers read about how the Georgia legislature passed a new worker’s comp law. The law was passed by the House in February and the Senate in March, and was signed by the Governor on May 6. Just this week, on July 1, the law went into effect. The law is House Bill 154 and it makes a number of changes to the state’s worker’s comp law that may be important for future workers injured on the job.

One major change in the new law is that it limits the length of time certain worker’s comp claimants can receive medical care for their injuries. The new limit for some injuries is 400 weeks. Previously, the law allowed for all injuries to continue to be treated as long as required, even if that meant treatment for the rest of the claimant’s life. Medical benefits for worker’s comp cases include things like surgery, hospital care, and other treatments prescribed by a doctor; this also includes prosthetics and other devices that may have been destroyed in the workplace accident. The treatments covered must be found to be “reasonably required” by the State Board of Worker’s Compensation, and that these treatments will help the injured worker be cured, get relief, or allow him or her to work again.

Now, from July 1, there is a new step to determine what type of injury is involved in the worker’s comp claim. Only if the injury is classified as “catastrophic” will the claimant be able to get medical treatment for the injury as long as necessary, even if lifetime treatment is required. All other non-catastrophic injuries are subject to the 400 week limitation. A list of injuries that do qualify as catastrophic is included in the law. These are: spinal cord injuries with paralysis; injuries requiring amputation of an arm, hand, leg, or foot; brain injuries that cause serious disturbances in sensory, motor or communication functions; second or third degree burns over 25 percent or more of the body; third degree burns over five percent of the face or hands; and total or industrial blindness. There is a final category to include other non-foreseeable catastrophic injuries, which covers injuries that prevent the claimant from doing his or her previous work and any other substantially available work for someone with similar qualifications.

The Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has had several expensive decisions handed down against it in the past few years by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Recently, the company was ordered to pay $1.1 million to three employees, one in Indiana and two in Pennsylvania, because OSHA found that they had been injured at work and retaliated against when they reported their injuries. The Indiana employee, who was injured when a sliver of metal entered his eye, was awarded $438,000 in punitive damages, back wages, benefits and other costs and ordered to be reinstated to his job at his proper seniority level with all the vacation and sick leave he would have earned had he been working. The company was ordered to pay the other two $648,000 for the same costs after injuries in a traffic accident. These are only three three examples as Norfolk Southern has paid numerous claimants for retaliation claims after workplace injury reporting over the past few years. Some of these cases settled, but some have had to go through the whole process for the employee to receive compensation. Just this month, an OSHA spokesperson said, “The company continues to retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries, and these actions have effectively created a chilling effect in the railroad industry.”

As Georgia work accident attorneys, we know that these work accident retaliation cases have had an impact in our state as well. Last November, an incident with Norfolk Southern occurred in Savannah. The worker in question, whose name was not released because of a Department of Labor policy on whistleblowers, was fired from his job on November 5, 2009. OSHA found that he was forced to sign a “leniency waiver” by the company on March 30, 2010 and then he returned to work six months later on September 20. OSHA stated that this employee’s investigative hearing was “severely flawed and intentionally designed to support its decision to terminate the worker.”

OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern to pay that employee more than $288,000 for this alleged retaliation for his work injury claim. Norfolk Southern’s actions violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railway Safety Act, according to OSHA. The company has challenged the ruling. Robin Chapman, their spokesman, wrote an email saying, “OSHA’s investigation in this matter is flawed and one sided because, to date, Norfolk Southern has not been permitted to question the employee under oath or cross examine any of his witnesses. We disagree with the finding and will appeal to an administrative law judge.”