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Let's paint the scene: We work in the back of a metalworking workshop in Austin Texas. Huge machines make lots of noise, at times there are steel panels on the floor with access holes to access the cabeling, in the entry area is grating to try and keep the metal shavings sticking to boots and pants in check. To complete the picture, there's a big sign "Safety Gear required at all times", "Crane operation only by trained personnel" and "Only Employees allowed in the workshop" on the door, together with "NO TRESPASSING". Every employee wears the mandatory steel-toed boots, coveralls, hearing protection, glasses and whatever else is needed.

A wild Karen enters the premises in her car, parks in the loading zone, opens the (unlocked) door to the workshop, then just enters the workshop and, of course, disregards all the signs that tell her that she can't be there. Nothing demands for the premises to be access controlled during work, so the gate of course is open - which also helps with deliveries, for which a bell exists to call someone to the door. But Karen doesn't use that. Entering the clearly marked workshop most likely constitutes trespass on its own, but we don't want to fight that battle if she was trespassing or not.

We focus on the real event: Because people wear the mandated hearing protection in the deafening loud workspace, nobody noticed her entering the moment she does. And, in her infinite wisdom, Karen wears stilettos. The OSHA-compliant grating at the entry traps one of her heels, it breaks and she falls forward, right into the clearly marked waste dropoff area. She falls face-first into a bin of metal filings, suffering injuries to her face and eyes. Blinded, she flails around and moments later finds the remote of the very crane that put the box of shavings there. Using it as a way to lift herself, her fingers press the button to release the hook and it hits the back of her head.

Now, about a minute after the events started, someone notices the intruder and calls an ambulance. After being released from hospital, Karen believes that she is in the right to sue our metal workshop for negligence so we have to pay her hospital bills...

Does Karen's claim, that the shop 'caused her injuries and suffering' hold water, if the shop was OSHA compliant and she was trespassing without mandated safety equipment, which directly lead to the injuries? Or might her claim be useless because she violated all sorts of clearly marked rules?

(useless here means: can be dismissed in the very first stages of litigation due to a motion for dismissal/summary judgement, or even dismissal as frivolous)

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Oct 7, 2022 at 22:59
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    The core question I would have is "What was the full context of Karen's visit there?" Was she a trespasser with no legitimate business? Or did she have real business there as a customer or vendor? If she couldn't find someone at the front desk, perhaps she was justified in going looking for an employee to help her? Had she been there before, and was aware of the hazards? Even if she didn't follow all posted safety rules, did she use normal caution, or was she running haphazardly through an unfamiliar area?
    – abelenky
    Apr 24, 2023 at 15:10

4 Answers 4

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This is a pretty good example of "Contributory Negligence".

Depending on the precise details of the case, both (or multiple) parties may have contributed to Karen's injuries.

She certainly had some role by ignoring posted signs and wearing inappropriate footwear.

But the shop may have made access too easy. Maybe they didn't have a front-desk person posted in a safe-area, causing her to go seeking an employee.

The shop had a dangerous bin of metal shavings without a lid on it, and at a height and location where a single misstep means someone could fall into it head-first.

They had dangerous crane-control mechanism in easy reach that didn't need a Key or other Lock-out mechanism.

Ultimately, the details will matter. But it should be straightforward for mediation or a trial to determine each parties contribution to the overall unsafe situation and injuries. Taking the description above at face-value, I think Karen and the shop might both be found partially responsible for the injuries. It may not be a 50/50 split, but Karen likely acted unreasonably, and the shop, despite OSHA compliance, may well have created more hazards than appropriate.

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    remember, this is a texas case, where comparative negligence is counted: Karen can only claim compensation if the shop is more than 49.9999% responsible.
    – Trish
    Apr 24, 2023 at 17:55
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I'm focused on the door. It's not locked, but you need to ring a bell for someone to Buzz you in... and inside everyone wears ear protection to avoid the loud sound. How is the button press from the outside signaled? My question then turns to the "ring for buzz in" set up, where the door would unlock and open up from a buzz in. If this sign was in place and the plaintiff opened the unlocked door, the assumption that the door was unlocked by a buzz in could reasonably justify plaintiff's entry into the shop and subsequent exposure to the damage. I would also question how safe the shops set up if a simple fall from a broken high heel shoe could cause her to fall in a waste disposal unit right by the primary entry/exit into the shop. While the floor may have been incompatible to her shoe, people can trip and fall just as easily without a stiletto. Suppose someone wearing proper footwear because of untiled shoelaces... they would have befallen the same fate. A common wisdom would be to move the waste collection away from the entrance and have lid or barrier to prevent a tripping person from going into the bin.

Furthermore, they the placement of a crane operating tool so close to an exit that a person blinded by the fall would grab it and accidentally press the release is still very haphazard placement.

Having passed an OSHA safety compliance inspection will not immunize you and there is no documentation that the inspection was conducted with all equipment in places where they were on the date of the incident. Additionally, the lack of a closed gate into the loading/unloading or any clear signage on the drive up is worrying. You mention that there is a gate preventing traffic into the area, but it's left open for convivence... this line of thinking has lead to many a disaster failure and the purpose of the gate, as implied by OP would lead me to believe it's purpose was to deter traffic from entering a restricted access.

The door being unlocked for fire safety concerns is not an excuse. Emergency doors that open from the inside is a critical feature in many buildings that have to consider an evacuation but require patrons and employees enter through a restricted area of access. These types of doors are installed in movie theaters for example, so that guests can exit the building but not enter to avoid paying the price of a ticket. You could even have doors that do not have handles or knobs on one side that would allow for exit but be impossible to open for entrance.

What it seems to me is that plaintif drove into the loading area by mistake because the gate was left open for convience, thus defeating the purpose of the gate. The plaintiff then parked in the loading zone and went to an entrance that allowed her to ring a bell for a buzz in. The workers inside, due to their mandatory ear safety, did not here the ring and there was likely no visual indicator... if there was, the visual indicator went ignored. Never the less, the Plaintiff, after being ignored, tested the door and found it was unlocked. It would be reasonable to assume the buzzer was not working... upon entry, the grate broke her shoe, causing her to stumble and fall into an uncovered waste disposal unit where she recieved injuries to her face and eyes. She was able to extricate herself from the unit and in her blindness, grabbed for something to use as leverage to return to her feet. While in pain, she grabbed the crane operating controls and pressed a release button, which dropped it's load, causing her further injury as she was struck by the load.

In this situation, I would certainly find that the metal shop had multiple different ways to prevent the entire situation and question the claim that the shop was OSHA compliant at the time. They could have stopped the car by keeping the gate down and direct them to the parking lot and front office which would handle the Plaintiff's business. They could have made the door lock from the outside only, preventing the plaintiff from walking in under the presumption that she had been properly admitted into the shop. They could have kept the equipment that lead to the injurys away from an entrance and if not impossible, had it properly covered so an innocent trip would not result into falling into the waste face first or place the crane operating cable in a location directly under the crane's load. Or left the crane unattended in a loaded state.

What's more, in a real case, the hostile nature of thethis post (referring to the victim in a derogatory term and refusing to consider her injuries or as purely her own fault and calling her a rule breaker despite ignoring the multiple points of failure, any one of which, would have prevented the injuries. In fact, it makes the defense seem like they are more inconvenient because of a work stoppage and a blocking of their loading docks, than a woman who was blinded in an accident. In fact, the detail that she parked in a loading dock makes it seem like you were inconvenienced because you had to have the car towed before you could load trucks with your goods. You offer no evidence that her "trespass" was in fact malicious or that her reason for being on the property. A sign alone does not absolve from failure to ensure that safety of workers and customers is your highest concern. In fact, the fact that you think it does and thus you're not without fault is alarming for someone in such a dangerous industry. The attitude you took in your initial post will not win sympathy from a jury.

There is no way this gets dismissed (it is not frivelous and it does hold water. Dismissals assume that the facts of the case as presented by the plaintiff are true when considered, which would be grounds for the case moving forward. A summary judgement occurs when the plaintiff and the defense agree to the facts of the case, which she likely contends that differntly). It will likely go to discovery and if no settlement is made, I doubt the OSHA people will be the shield you think they will. I would love to see your company's OSHA compliance safety check and see the lay out on the date the check occurred vs. the date of the incident.

All things considered, it is probably in your best interest to settle and pay her medical bills, because there is a cap on compensatory damages that she can win in court. However, there is no cap on punitive damages, which are there to punish because the compensatory damages are not enough. I'm sure they will seek punitive damages, and I would see your lawyers having a hard time convincing the jury that they shouldn't grant those damages. If you can avoid a trial by paying medical bills alone... that's a win.

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  • As for "press bell" - there are bells that actually call a phone on press - is is not a ring for buzz in but ring for attention and wait for employee bell
    – Trish
    Apr 24, 2023 at 19:11
  • @Trish And someone who is not involved with the day to day operations, upon pressing the bell and finding the door unlocked would reasonably conclude that attention was given. Again, the fact that it is not your procedure doesn't mean she trespassed. You created a situation where she thought she had permission to enter the facility.
    – hszmv
    Apr 25, 2023 at 11:31
  • A sign "Only Employees allowed in the workshop" on the door to the workshop is not a ban for entry?
    – Trish
    Apr 25, 2023 at 17:05
  • @Trish What you fail to realize is that proper workplace safety requires more than merely a sign. Yes, you have a sign. You also have a door that could be locked and yet you refused. You also had waiste bins in an location where someone could slip and fall face first into them. You also had a crane control that could be pressed accidently and was underneath the drop zone of the crane load and could be accidently pressed by someone groping around in the dark. A sign alone is not "OSHA compliant workplace safety." It is one part of the whole.
    – hszmv
    Apr 25, 2023 at 18:12
  • @Trish Additionally, the fact that your in a buisness that sells products implies that during business hours, members of the general public are invited in. It is within the business's rights to control how the customer may enter the buisness for the safety of the employees, but this needs to either be actively communicated or by barriers to improper entry (such as a locked door.). While a sign communicates this, a locked door does so better, as they now must find a proper entrance or communicate their desire to enter.
    – hszmv
    Apr 25, 2023 at 18:27
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Employer here had to pay funeral costs for a kid who broke into their fenced yard.

Evidence was that they knew the kid was breaking into their yard, and had warned the kid and the family that the yard was dangerous (ie, they knew the yard was dangerous).

Signposting and warning didn't preclude their responsibility for making sure the yard was safe for known uses -- including known illegal entering by kids.

Actual awards would depend on the facts of the case, including contributory negligence, but all OHSA regulations I am aware of are minimum requirements, not excuses.

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    where is "over here"?
    – Trish
    Apr 24, 2023 at 8:08
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    This sounds like the “attractive nuisance” doctrine, which is specific to children and doesn’t apply to the OP’s fact pattern.
    – Sneftel
    Apr 24, 2023 at 9:00
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    "Had to pay funeral costs" sounds very odd. If the "employer" was found to be liable, he would have had to pay way more than just the funeral costs. It seems that this information is either incomplete, or it was incorrectly reported by some source, if it has any actual base at all.
    – SJuan76
    Apr 24, 2023 at 9:32
  • @SJuan76 of course the information is incomplete. This is StackExchange, not a legal reference text. And "if it has any actual base at all" is just insulting.
    – david
    Apr 25, 2023 at 8:48
  • @david: Well, we do aim to ideally have similar quality to a legal reference text. At any rate, if you describe a specific case, and others doubt that the case happened as you describe, a citation is very helpful to dispel doubts :-).
    – sleske
    Jun 6, 2023 at 7:23
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If Karen is suing you, she has a case.

If Karen is only threatening to sue you she may or may not have a case.

Assuming that as proposed in the quesiton, that she is actively suing you, at least one attorney thinks there is money to be extracted from your company. Everything else is up to the adjudication and negotiation process. How strong her case is would be a topic for the lawyer you hire for defense of the case.

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    "Assuming that as proposed in the quesiton, that she is actively suing you, at least one attorney thinks there is money to be extracted from your company." Not necessarily; she could be suing them pro se.
    – Someone
    Oct 7, 2022 at 16:18
  • @Jen indeed. Motion to dismiss, summary judgement on the merits of the complaint, heck, even the court's sua-sponte dismissal as frivolous.
    – Trish
    Oct 7, 2022 at 16:18
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    @Someone and some (unethical) lawyers are known to make frivolous lawsuits not to win but get the money of their clients.
    – Trish
    Oct 7, 2022 at 16:19
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    This is a nonsensically bad answer.
    – bdb484
    Oct 7, 2022 at 21:28
  • While obviously a poor and non-rigorus answer, this is useful for what was likely the real question asked: "does my company need to do anything about this lawsuit?" Jun 5, 2023 at 19:48

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