Two Worker Death Cases at Nut Processing Plant
In April of 2019, two cases came before the courts that involved agricultural workers who were killed at the nut processing facilities at which they worked. Each case is significant to workers comp attorneys for different reasons. The first case resulted in the nut manufacturer being fined by Cal/OSHA after a worker’s death. The second was an appellate case where the appeals court tossed out a civil suit over the employee’s death, reinforcing that workers comp is the sole remedy available to an injured worker.
Worker Death Case at Walnut Processing Plant
On Oct. 6, 2018, forklift operators at the Crain Walnut Shelling plant were filling bins with walnuts, which were then dumped into a hopper for processing. A temporary worker employed by Cal North Farm Labor and assigned to Crain was cleaning an area that happened to be located under the 800-pound bin dumper. While he was cleaning, the bin dumper emptied its load, after which it automatically descended to the ground level, crushing the temporary worker to death.
Cal/OSHA Cites Nut Manufacturing Company in Worker’s Death
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reviewed the case and issued citations and fines to both Crain and Cal North for more than $100,000 in combined penalties.
Cal/OSHA’s investigation revealed that the temporary worker had not received safety training from either Crain or the Fresno-based Cal North farm labor company that supplied the temporary worker to Crain.
It further determined that Crain did not sufficiently evaluate workplace hazards that ultimately led to the accident, nor did they ensure that the walnut bin was fitted with proper safety equipment. The walnut bin dumper should have included machine guards and lockout/tagout procedures to protect individuals who work on or around such equipment. Furthermore, extension tools should have been provided to clean the area, thus enabling the worker to clean under the bin from a safer distance.
Based upon these four serious violations, Cal/OSHA issued four citations with proposed penalties totaling $67,500 to Crain. Additionally, Cal/OSHA fined Cal North Farm Labor for a total of $33,750 due to their failure to ensure that workers are trained with respect to hazards arising from cleaning and servicing bin dumpers.
Worker Death Case at Pistachio Nut Processing Plant
In April of 2019, the California Court of Appeals upheld a motion for summary judgment in favor of Dole Food Company and its subsidiary, Setton Properties, Inc., a pistachio processing facility in Terra Bella, California. The original suit was brought before the Tulare County Superior Court, by the widow (Sylvia Ochoa) of a deceased employee (Fernando Santiesteban), who died while he was performing routine equipment maintenance on an auger. Defendants Dole and Setton filed a motion for summary judgment. Motions for summary judgment give the courts a mechanism to cut through the parties’ pleadings in order to determine whether or not there is sufficient grounds for a trial, or even if a trial is necessary to resolve the disputes.
Nut Processing Equipment Did Not Meet Standard for Exception
Central to Ms. Ochoa’s complaint was an exception to the worker’s comp exclusive remedy – she claimed that the machine was considered a “power press,” which California law states can be the source of a civil lawsuit outside of worker’s comp if the machine and the situation meets certain requirements.
Dole and Setton asserted that the piece of equipment in question did not qualify under the worker’s comp exception. In fact, it was a conveyer-style “auger” and not a press that used a die, and that in any event, the company had not manufactured it.
Superior and Appellate Court Uphold Worker’s Comp as Exclusive Remedy
The Superior Court found the defendants’ arguments persuasive and granted Dole’s and Setton’s summary judgment motion on a number of grounds, among which they specifically rejected Ochoa’s product liability claim.
Ochoa appealed the judgment, and the Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel affirmed the lower court’s decision, which left the worker’s comp system as the sole remedy available to Ochoa, because her complaint did not meet the legal bar for a lawsuit outside of the workers compensation exclusive remedy.
Our attorneys keep their eyes open for cases that affect workers comp law. We apply that knowledge to our cases, to ensure that our clients receive the best possible legal representation. Our attorneys are available for consultation if you have been injured on the job and want to see what rights and remedies you have.
Long Beach Workers Comp Death Case Lawyers
If you suffered the death of a loved one in any kind of workplace accident, we understand how difficult this time is for you.
However, it is important that you speak with an experienced workers comp lawyer immediately. You and your family may be entitled to workers comp benefits, so it is essential to get legal advice to protect your rights and ensure you get the maximum workers compensation for your tragic loss. Our lawyers will help you understand your rights and work tirelessly to ensure that you receive the maximum workers’ comp benefits for which you qualify.