Alabama Supreme Court Further Defines “Willful Conduct” With Regard to Co-Employee Liability
The Supreme Court recently released its opinion in Louis Hall v. Bobby Saarinen and Chris Williams, in which it reversed the trial court’s denial of the co-employee defendants’ motion for summary judgment regarding the plaintiff’s personal injury claim. The plaintiff was injured by a saw while at work, and he sued his employer and two supervisory co-workers in tort. The employer was dismissed from the action pursuant to the Exclusivity Doctrine. In his amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the co-employees defendants “caused or allowed the removal of a guard from the saw” and “failed to install a safety guard provided for the saw” and “failed to replace the unguarded saw with a new guarded saw.”
The saw (Kalamazoo brand) that was used by the employer had a manufacturer-installed guard. At some point prior to the incident, the plaintiff expressed concern to his employer that the guard was not adequate, and so at the plaintiff’s request, the employer installed an additional guard to better shield the saw when it was lifted up. Thereafter, the employer purchased a new saw (DeWalt brand), but because they were in their busy season, the employer had not yet installed the new saw for use. The question at issue before the Supreme Court was whether the presence of another saw on the premises, that had not yet been installed and was not from the same manufacturer, constituted the removal of a safety device under Ala. Code 25-5-11(c)(2).
The Court found that there was no evidence indicating that the co-employees failed to install a guard provided by the manufacturer or that they failed to maintain or repair the guard provided. Although an additional safety guard was installed on the original saw, that guard was not an “alternative safety device” because the original guard was not by-passed. The Court concluded that the failure to install another, presumably safer, saw from a different manufacturer that was present on the premises but that had not been put into operation is not the equivalent of the removal of a safety device, and thus does not constitute willful misconduct under Ala. Code 25-5-11(c)(2).
The Court expressly declined to give an opinion as to whether the presence of a new (presumably safer) machine on the premises made by the same manufacturer as the machine that injured an employee would constitute willful misconduct by a co-employee.
About the Author
This blog submission was prepared by Mary Stewart Nelson Thompson, an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing self-insured employers, insurance carriers, and third party administrators in all matters related to workers’ compensation. Fish Nelson & Holden is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have any questions about this submission or Alabama workers’ compensation in general, please contact Mary Stewart Nelson Thompson by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her directly at 205-332-3430.