LeFiell Mfg. v. Super. Ct.: Workers’ Compensation Exclusivity and Rare Exception

Our workplace accident attorneys understand some employers take shortcuts when it comes to on-the-job safety. For employees working closely with heavy equipment, the result can be devastating.

506099_caution_.jpgLeFiell Mfg. v. Super. Ct., an appeal before the California Court of Appeals, involved a worker who was injured while operating a swaging machine. In rendering its opinion, the court wrote at great length about what a swaging machine is and how it works.

Essentially, a swaging machine is designed to take large diameter tubes and turn them into small diameter tubes. It is basically crimps a pipe fitting over another pipe fitting. You could use a swaging machine to attach the end to a hose, so that it could be connected to a faucet or another hose. The way the machine works is that a series of hammers compresses around the tube that is being crimped. The hammers are part of dye assembly that can be changed to match the diameter of the pipe or tube being reduced.

In this case, the machine had a safety door covering the hammer die set. The door would be opened when changing the die and then closed. On the machine this worker was using, the door had been completely removed and some sort of pressure plate was being used in place of the door. For reasons that will become important later, this machine is a power press.

When the worker was removing a tube from the machine, a shard of metal was ejected from the machine and hit him in the eye. He suffered a substantial eye injury. Instead of filing a claim for workers’ compensation, the injured worker file a civil personal injury action for the damages caused by the eye injury.

Typically, an injured worker can file a claim to recover under the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance plan if injured on the job. This allows the worker to be compensated for medical bills and lost wages. This should be a quick recovery but will likely not be of the same level of financial recovery gained through a negligence action. However, in a workers’ compensation claim, there is no need to prove negligence.

In this case, the worker is attempting to use an exception to the bar on filing a personal injury lawsuit against his employer, by arguing that the employer had acted exceptionally negligent in removing a factory-installed point-of-operation guard on a power press from the machine, thus making its operation unnecessarily dangerous.

The case turned on whether the safety door was a point-of-operation guard on a power press or not. If it were, the plaintiff would qualify under this particular exception.

As the court noted, the purpose of this very narrowly-tailored exception to the bar on filing a civil negligence action was to hold employers responsible who knowingly removed important safety features from large machines.

The court ultimately concluded that this door was not a point-of-operation guard under the meaning of the statute. The statute was created to prevent employers from leaving parts of the machine exposed (presumably for faster operation) that would allow workers to get their hands caught in the die presses and suffer significant injury. The court held that workers’ compensation was the appropriate remedy.

If you are injured on the job in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim: 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

LeFiell Mfg. v. Super. Ct., August 6, 2014, California Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:

Fowler v Vista Care – Court Declines to Limit Access to Workers’ Compensation, June 28, 2014.