Court throws out claim that employer should be responsible for crushing death of employee maintaining repeatedly failing machine
Ryan Charles' family sued his employer, Spartan Steel Coating, LLC, after Charles was crushed while attempting to adjust the belt on a large steel recoiler machine. The machine had a history of failing repeatedly, and Charles was required to place his body inside the workings of the machine to make adjustments. He "pulled the plug" on the machine and informed a co-operator of his required maintenance, however, the co-worker simply assumed that Charles had finished, and reactivated it while Charles was still in danger. Unknown to either man, Charles' pulling of the plug on the machine only partially disabled its functioning, and it recycled crushing Charles.
The family argued that the extreme danger associated with maintaining the repeatedly-failing machine, combined with the fact of repeated failure, created an exception to the normal rule that an employer is entitled to immunity from injury or death claims filed by employees covered under workers compensation. Previously the exception to this "exclusive remedy" provision had allowed an injured worker who was subjected to a "continuously dangerous work environment" and statistically highly likely to be hurt, to sue for damages beyond workers compensation. Recent Michigan decisions of the Supreme Court have limited the right, however, to employees whom the employer "intends to injure." Since Charles' family could not point to any particular manager or employee who intended to injure him, his family was limited to the minimal benefits due under workers compensation.