Employer’s Negligence Responsible for Injuries

Accidents at work account for hundreds of serious injuries in Oregon every year. Portland negligence lawyers are often asked the tricky question, “Who’s to blame?” Is it the employee for not operating his equipment properly, for not securing his ladder or for not wearing the appropriate personal protection equipment, or is it the employer for not giving adequate training or not supplying equipment suitable for the job? The answer, sadly, can often be that both Portland employer’s negligence and the employee contributed to the accident, and that’s what makes these cases so difficult to sort out when a lawsuit is filed.

In a very recent case, a mining company was held liable for an employee’s death by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which concluded in its investigations that Stillwater Mining Co. did not provide appropriate training to Dale Madson, 42, of Bearcreek, Montana, who was killed on October 31, 2011, leaving behind a wife and two teenage daughters.

Madson was driving a loader on an underground road, when the machine crashed as he was taking a curve. A rock bolt entered the cabin of the loader, struck Madson and killed him. The MSHA found:

  • Madson had more than three years experience working in mines, and his training was up to date.
  • Madson’s training was inadequate because it failed to specifically address the hazards that ultimately led to his death
  • The accident occurred because management’s policies and procedures failed to ensure equipment operators maintained control of mobile equipment.

The MHSA noted in December that Stillwater has since given all its equipment operators additional training. Specifically, Stillwater has established new policies and procedures for workers who operate loaders and other mobile equipment such as that used by Madson. Company policy now states that anyone operating mobile equipment must reduce their speed on corners or curves, or areas with reduced clearance, and they must flash the vehicle’s lights or sound the horn at blind corners.

Portland negligence lawyers often look to a company’s safety record when trying to determine degrees of negligence. In Stillwater’s case, federal safety records showed no fewer than 74 “significant safety violations” in the period from October 1, 2010, to Sept 30, 2011. While that figure is surprising in itself, what’s really shocking is that those 74 violations are lower than the average for mining operations.

What is negligence, and what isn’t?

It can often be difficult to determine what constitutes a Portland employer’s negligence. In general, four basic areas of negligence lead to actions against companies by injured employees. They include:

  • Negligent hiring. This arises when the employer should have known that a person they hired had a reputation, propensity or history of misusing the position for which they were hired, had the employer exercised due diligence before hiring that employee. This has frequently been the case in, for example, sexual harassment claims where both the employer and the perpetrator are held liable. Employers can avoid negligent hiring claims by running background checks on potential employees, including speaking with previous employers or checking for a criminal record.
  • Negligent retention occurs when an employer continues to allow a person who is abusing their position to remain in that position, even after it becomes apparent that this could lead to a dangerous situation for other employees.
  • Negligent supervision is closely related to negligent retention. Portland negligence lawyers will often argue that an employer who had received reports of an employee abusing their position in such a way as to put other employees in danger did not adequately monitor or control the abusive employee.
  • Negligent training actions can be taken when it can be shown that an employer did not adequately train employees to protect themselves from dangers or hazards they could reasonably be expected to face while carrying out the duties of their employment.

Where’s the proof?

In any Portland employer’s negligence lawsuit, there is a burden of proof on the plaintiff, who must show:

  • The employer owed them a duty of care, which can be established by showing the injury to the employee was “reasonably foreseeable,” as was the case with Dale Madson and Stillwater Mining Co.
  • The duty was breached.
  • The employee was injured directly because of and as a result of that breach of duty.

Clearly, the area of Portland employer’s negligence claims is a complex and often daunting one, particularly as employers and their insurers will usually vigorously defend such actions. Employees, even those who have been seriously injured through blatant breaches of their employer’s duty of care, often hesitate to file a claim because they’re frightened not just of losing their existing job, but that “word could get around” that they’re a trouble maker, and they may not be able to get another job.

Our advice would be that if you have been injured at work and you think your employer should be held liable, have a confidential consultation with a firm of Portland negligence lawyers before making up your mind. In most cases, it won’t cost you anything, and a competent personal injury attorney will be able to give you an honest assessment of what to expect, and offer good advice on whether or not you should proceed with your compensation claim.