Families File Wrongful Deaths After Salt Mine Collapse
The widows of two miners who lost their lives in a salt mine collapse have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the salt mine company, naming one of the supervisors in the lawsuit. The widows allege that their husbands had been placed in a part of the salt mine that was prone to roof collapses and had been barricaded. They further allege that one of the employees said that the area was unsafe and was told that they should run away if the roof began to collapse. The company did not test the workers to see if they were fast enough to escape a falling roof or do anything that made a lick of sense. The company has since shut down the salt mine but has yet to file a response to the lawsuits.
Workers’ compensation issues
This incident occurred in Louisiana which has different rules than Florida when it comes to workers’ compensation. However, in both states, employees are generally barred from filing lawsuits directly against their employer even in cases of gross negligence. There could be several reasons why the workers’ compensation insurer would deny the claim, which might allow the plaintiffs to file a lawsuit, but no mention of workers’ compensation was made in the article. However, if the miners were employees of the defendant, then it is likely the widows will only be able to pursue recovery from workers’ compensation. In Florida, that would almost certainly be true.
On the other hand, if the miners were considered independent contractors or their state’s rules don’t require companies to carry workers’ compensation insurance, then the miners would be able to file a lawsuit directly against the mining company.
One exception under workers’ compensation law involves intentionally reckless misconduct or “intentional” torts. These two are not the same. Workers’ compensation only compensates for accidental injuries, so if your supervisor punches you in the face, you won’t be able to file a claim, but you can sue them and their company. A second element involves recklessness, though not all states permit such a claim. If a company exposes employees to dangers that they can reasonably surmise would result in grievous injury or death, then the company may be liable for the injuries outside of the workers’ comp system.
Depending on which standard is employed by the state, a case like this may result in a lawsuit even if the company were covered by workers’ compensation because they recklessly exposed their employers to a danger, they either knew or should have known would cause grievous bodily injury. Nonetheless, the standard is high, and it is difficult to win. A plaintiff must show that:
- The employer engaged in conduct that it knew was “virtually certain” to result in injury or death
- AND the employee was not aware of the risks because the risk was not apparent OR intentionally concealed by the supervisors
Was the roof collapse “virtually certain” after prior roof collapses? Were the employees aware that there was a serious danger? These are all matters that the court will need to settle prior to deciding the case.
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