The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that just because an employer failed to have their employees use a more guarded saw they had available in their workplace does not mean that they willfully lacked a safety guard on the piece of equipment.
Louis Hall was an employee of Williams Manufacturing, Inc. He was operating a power saw and suffered an injury in May of 2014. He sued his employer and Bobby Saarinen and Chris Williams, the plant manager and owner of the company, respectively, alleging that they were negligent and reckless. The case was initially dismissed by a trial court who determined that his exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation. Hall amended his allegations to say that his co-employees, Saarinen and Williams, had allowed the removal of a guard from the saw he was operating, had failed to install a provided safety guard for the saw and had failed to replace an unguarded saw with a guarded saw.
Saarinen and Williams sought summary judgment, saying that Hall had requested an additional guard be placed on the saw he was working with because even with the guard provided by the manufacturer, about 1.5 inches of the blade was still exposed. Williams Manufacturing installed another guard. After his injury, the company replaced the saw he had been using with one manufactured by a different company. Hall argued that the replacement saw had actually been purchased about a month before his injury and was not installed yet because his employer told him they were too busy to change saws. He argued that their motion for summary judgment should be denied because he would never have been injured had he been using the new saw which had a full wrap-around guard. Their motion was denied by a trial court.
When the co-workers appealed and the Alabama Supreme Court heard the case, Hall argued that their actions were equivalent to removing a safety guard and cited several similar cases where the court interpreted failing to install a safety device as a willful removal of the safety device. The court decided that there was no indication that the co-employees failed to install a guard (safety device) provided by the manufacturer and that their makeshift guard was on top of the guard already there so it did not replace the original safety device or act as an alternative safety device. They determined that the decision not to install the other saw did not equate to the willful removal of a safety guard. They reversed the trial court decisions and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Read the case decision here.