SPRINGFIELD — On March 25, the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board issued a major ruling concerning worker safety. In the underlying case, Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley (PSRB) attorneys Thomas Downey and Ronald Kidd claimed their client suffered severe, disabling injuries as a result of the employer’s serious and willful misconduct.
After a hearing, the judge awarded the injured employee double compensation under Section 28 of the Workers’ Compensation Act on account of the employer’s misconduct. Section 28 claims are rare and often unsuccessful because of the requirement to prove a willful act or failure. The Reviewing Board affirmed the judge’s double-compensation award.
“This was a case in which an employee, in the normal performance of their duties, was badly injured by a machine he was cleaning. The action stems from the fact that the owner of the business did not inform the worker about an emergency shut-off switch which was in place to prevent this exact sort of accident,” Downey said. “The willful disregard for safety by the owner allowed us to recover double compensation for our client. This is an uncommon occurrence and shows the strength of our case, the disregard for worker’s safety, and the ability of our team to work on behalf our injured client.”
Kidd added that “this case was unique among willful and wanton cases in that it lacked the ‘coercive’ element usually present. The department found that the failure of the employer to educate its employees as to the existence of this safety device, and the removal of the key to operate it, were equivalent to forcing the employee to work in a dramatically unsafe environment.”