Court tosses wrongful death claim in fatal North Carolina work accident involving teenager

The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently upheld the dismissal of a wrongful death suit filed after a teenager was pulled into a pallet shredder. This case illustrates the very high standards of proof necessary to file a wrongful death case in conjunction with a workers’ compensation claim and highlights the need for representation by an experienced and aggressive law firm.

The 17-year-old Guatemalan national was legally working in the United States and had been employed by Pallet Express for about four months. He was working a pallet shredder unsupervised when he was apparently pulled into the machine. The supervisor of the machine was late for work that day and another worker had temporarily left the victim alone when the fatal North Carolina work accident occurred.

OSHA issued the company two citations that listed 11 safety violations, including improperly allowing an underage employee to use heavy equipment and removing safe guards from the shredder. As we reported on our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, there are special regulations governing the employment of underage workers, which are in place to help protect them from suffering a work accident.

A North Carolina wrongful death lawsuit was filed in 2008 and dismissed by the courts in 2009 at the request of the company, which argued wrongful death could not be proven because no one witnessed the accident.

The appeal court agreed, finding that no proof existed that the company engaged in intentional misconduct substantially certain to cause death. The court noted that employees who are injured or killed are generally limited to recovery available under the state’s workers compensation laws, except in cases of intentional misconduct by an employer.

The victim’s family argued that the company removed safeguards from the shredder to increase production; and assigned an underage employee to work the equipment unsupervised and without proper training. The court found it did not meet the required burden of proof.

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