Client Stories: Persistence Pays Off in Work Injury Cases

Michael GrossmanFebruary 06, 2015 3 minutes

After being placed by a temp agency, Chris G. was eager to join the workforce at a major meat processing plant facility here in Texas. Unfortunately, after only a few weeks on the job, he suffered a catastrophic injury to his dominant hand after it was ensnared in a meat skinning machine. The temp agency had a paltry benefit plan in place that would ostensibly cover Chris's medical bills (which it actually did not fully cover), but it offered nothing in the way of compensation for Chris's immense pain and suffering, inability to use his hand, disfigurement, etc.

Chris contacted multiple firms for help, and he even hired a few of them, all of which told him that he had no case. They told him to take the little that he had received and be glad he got anything. Then he found us. After a few minutes of speaking with Chris, we knew we could help him, and we immediately launched our investigation. You see, the other firms told Chris that his only claim would be against the temp agency, but we knew better. The meat processing plant had put Chris in harm's way, had done an incredibly poor job of training him, and even though they benefited from his labor, they claimed no affiliation with him once he was injured. And that's not alright with us.

Utilizing the help of a former OSHA director as our consulting safety expert, we conducted an onsite inspection and uncovered considerable evidence proving negligence. Despite claims that Chris was at fault, this is what we found during our investigation:

  • Surprisingly, Chris received little to no training when he started the job, and he never received a training manual on his work duties and how to properly operate the machines. What little instruction he did receive was done by a supervisor who did not speak the same language as Chris. Just imagine if someone handed you the keys to a bulldozer or a submarine and said, "Figure it out." That's essentially what they had done to Chris.
  • Chris was incorrectly instructed to stick his hand, as well as a meat hook, into the business end of the machine in order to dislodge debris in the event of a clog. This action was in direct violation of the machine's instruction manual because Chris wasn't given the proper tool needed to dislodge the debris. In fact, the manufacturer of the machine provided a piece of equipment designed to disintegrate should the machine accidentally turned on, but Chris was instructed to use a metal hook instead. As it turns out, this was how all of the plant's workers were instructed to deal with a clogged machine. Again, in direct violation of the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • The facility also failed to take proper precautions with the machine by not utilizing the "lock out-tag out" procedure. This safety protocol exists to alert others that the machine is being worked on and should not be turned on at that time. OSHA requires such a protocol, which the company did not use, nor did they train Chris or their other employees to use.

  • There had been numerous other close calls using this piece of machinery wherein other workers almost suffered the same fate. Yet, the company never once ventured to figure out how to prevent such incidents. Had they read the manual for the machine, had any kind of reasonable safety audit, had they put more than a moment's thought into their practices and procedures, or had they been even remotely familiar with OSHA regulations, the possibility of such an accident would have seemed apparent to them. This company had no safety culture to speak of. It was just an accident waiting to happen.
  • After evidence of their negligence came to light, the company tried to claim that Chris was not their employee; he was the temp agency's employee, which is a fancy way of saying that they were attempting to disown him as employee, which would have allowed them to deny liability for most of the accusations against them. However, in the state of Texas, the law states that when you assume control of someone they become an employee because you treat them as such. Therefore, we dug further, and through the course of many depositions and other investigative techniques, we established that the company had indeed treated Chris as an employee (when he was hired on, they even went so far as to make him sign an acknowledgment of the company's policies which specifically said that he was to be treated like an employee).

    The results of our hard work paid off for Chris. Not only were we able to get him a 7-figure settlement that would cover his losses and account for his future impairment, we succeeded in making sure that the company who put him in this position was not able to pass the buck. And all of that happened in a case that seven other firms had deemed unwinnable.