Workers rights laws in the nature of workers’ compensation protect both workers and employers across the country for over 100 years. As noted, Texas is the only state with an opt out option. Recently there was a case that shows what can happen to an employer when it is not protected by the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy provision.
Asa Ferrel worked for Tyson Foods in Texas, where his duties included stacking and sorting boxes of meat on pallets. One day while lifting packages weighing up to 110 pounds, he felt a severe pain in his low back. Ferrell, 55, was diagnosed with herniated disks at L3-5. After epidural injections and physical therapy failed to alleviate his pain, he underwent lumbar fusion surgery. Despite the surgery, Ferrell continues to suffer pain and a restricted range of motion in his low back. He will require lifelong pain management therapy, including future pain injections, medications and home modifications to accommodate his reduced ability to reach and bend. The permanent work restrictions prevent a return to work and now leads a sedentary lifestyle.
He also suffers from depression related to his injuries and their impact on his life. His future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at about $425,000. Ferrell’s past lost earnings totaled about $63,600, and his future lost earnings are estimated at about $442,400. Because Tyson opted out of the Texas workers’ compensation system, Ferrel was free to make a regular negligence lawsuit against Tyson, alleging that it failed to provide a safe workplace. Specifically, Ferrel contended that the plant violated ergonomic and safe-lifting guidelines established by the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health, as well as Tyson’s own guidelines by permitting him to lift the heavy boxes unassisted. The plaintiff’s safety engineering expert testified that the plant should have provided lifting equipment or more workers. He also testified that the room the plant provided for sorting boxes did not give workers enough space to work safely. Tyson denied the boxes were too heavy or that the working conditions were inadequate. The jury disagreed and awarded about $2.25 million to Ferrel. What could have been a $100,000 worker’s compensation settlement, became a $2,225,000 verdict.
McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is fully prepared to make negligence claims against employers on behalf of workers who suffer traumatic or occupational back and neck injuries after an employer leaves the protection of workers rights laws. There are rules for safe lifting techniques and employers who do not teach or enforce these safety rules are negligent and should be responsible for cervical and lumbar injuries, especially if they result in fusion surgery and permanent work restrictions.