Lloyd Industries Inc, owned by William P. Lloyd and based in Montgomeryville, PA, was sued on March 8th, 2016, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In their complaint, OSHA alleges that the way in which two former employees were fired violated OSHA’s whistleblower protection provisions.
How It All Began
The chain of events that ultimately lead to the lawsuit began almost two years prior on July 11th, 2104, when an employee in the manufacturing plant was involved in a workplace accident. The employee was operating a press brake which lacked the proper safeguarding equipment. Due to the lack of a guard, the machine crushed three of his fingers so severely that doctors were unable to save them and were forced to amputate.
Soon after his accident the company fired the injured employee.
He managed to pursue a workers’ compensation claim, but only because other employees assisted him in getting the information he needed.
One of his former co-workers took photographs of the machine which had been involved in his accident, as well as other machines that were lacking guards. On November 6th, 2014, the injured worker filed a report with OSHA, informing them about the issues with the lack of safety with the machinery and providing them with the photographic evidence. The following week, an OSHA official began an inspection of the manufacturing plant.
Just five days after the safety complaint was filed, the owner of the company fired the worker who had assisted the injured worker by taking photographs.
A few months after the investigation began, OSHA subpoenaed a supervisor at the company who provided them with a sworn testimony. On May 11th, 2015, 23 citations were sent to the company owner. Within a few hours of receiving the citations, he fired the supervisor who had provided testimony.
Both the employee who took photographs and the supervisor filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, who investigated the complaints. The administration decided to file a lawsuit when they determined that the two employees had been fired for actions that are protected by Section 11(c). The lawsuit seeks to have the workers reinstated to their former positions, compensated for wages that they may have lost, have the owner of the company pay for OSHA’s legal costs, and also award punitive damages to the plaintiffs.
The 23 Citations
Each of the 23 citations filed against the company stem from lack of safety measures taken on machinery used by employees, as well as a failure to perform routine testing of noise levels to protect employees from hearing loss. There have been 40 reports of serious injuries at the company since 2000.
OSHA has reported that, “Since 2000, William Lloyd has shown a pattern of defiance toward OSHA safety standards: Inspectors find violations, including the absence of safety guards to prevent serious injuries from moving machine parts. Lloyd then agrees to correct the hazardous conditions and accepts OSHA penalties, but similar violations are found when the inspectors return. In one instance, OSHA officials were forced to summon U.S. federal marshals to gain entrance to the plant when Lloyd refuse to admit them, even after they obtained a warrant.”
The department also noted that Lloyd had complained to officials that the safety guards slowed the production process.
At least ten of the citations are considered “willful violations” which OSHA defines as:
“A violation that the employer intentionally and knowingly commits. The employer is aware that a hazardous condition exists, knows that the condition violates a standard or other obligation of the Act, and makes no reasonable effort to eliminate it. OSHA may propose penalties of up to $70,000 for each willful violation. The minimum penalty is $5,000.”
In this case, OSHA has proposed more than $800,000 in fines. Lloyd is currently contesting those fines.
What Are Punitive Damages?
When punitive damages are awarded in a lawsuit, the intent is to punish the defendant. The hope is that by punishing the defendant in this way, an example will be made for others who may potentially decide to behave in a similarly negligent or malicious manner.
Was The Injured Employee Still Entitled File For Workers’ Compensation?
Yes. Anytime that an employee is injured while at work, even if the accident which results in injuries was caused by the employee, they are entitled to file for workers’ compensation. When a workers’ comp claim is filed the employee may no longer file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer, however, if the claim is approved, they may be compensated for medical expenses and at least a fraction of their lost wages. In the unfortunate event that the accident resulted in a fatality, benefits may be provided to those who were related to the deceased and were financially dependent on them.
Does Workers’ Compensation Cover A Disabled Worker?
Yes. Benefits may be provided to a worker whose injuries are disabling. There are four categories of disabilities:
Permanent Partial Disability
This type of disability means a worker has an injury that results in permanent damage, but their ability to do work is only partially impaired.
Permanent Total Disability
This is when a worker’s injuries are so severe that they are unable to ever return to work.
Temporary Partial Disability
This is when an injury is serious enough that you need time to heal before the worker can do certain duties of the job. They are still capable of doing some parts of the job but won’t be able to take on a full load until they have healed completely.
Temporary Total Disability
This is when an injury prevents a worker from returning to work completely but only until they have healed. This is the most common type of disability.
Is There A Time Limit On Filing?
A claim should be filed as soon as possible, however, the employee does have three years to file. In cases where the medical condition is considered latent, the time period begins when they become aware, or should have been reasonably aware of the condition.
You do need to inform your employer of the injury in writing within 30 days of the injury.
What Should I Do If I’ve Received A Denial Letter?
If your claim has been denied, you can file an appeal. The process of filing an appeal is a long one and often involves a hearing. It is within your best interests to contact a workers’ compensation attorney if your claim has been denied.
An attorney can help you determine the cause of your denial, find and fill out the correct forms for the appeal, speak to the insurance company with you, and represent you at any hearings. If there is an issue with any benefits that you do receive, the attorney can work to make sure that you receive full compensation and not a partial amount.
Other Forms Of Compensation
When the attorney is reviewing your case, they may also discover that a third party can also be held legally responsible if their negligence resulted in your injuries. While a workers’ comp claim prevents you from filing a lawsuit against the employer, you can still seek compensation through a lawsuit against a third party.
In addition to obtaining compensation for medical expenses and lost wages, a personal injury lawsuit can also provide the plaintiff with compensation for physical pain and suffering and emotional distress.