Man with amputated arm cannot sue employer for grossly unsafe machine; cannot complete discovery into "notice" of risk
Naum Thomai attempted to sue his employer, MIBA Hydramechanica Corporation, after his arm was traumatically shredded at the elbow and required amputation. Thomai operated a "grooving machine" and claimed that despite oil leaks and lack of guarding, his employer made minor adjustments in its operation and then increased his production quota, per shift, from 300 units to 600 units. According to Thomai, he informed management that he could not operate the machine, in its present condition, at the demanded rate, without incurring injury. His complaints fell on deaf ears until his arm was shredded.
The trial judge allowed a few months of discovery and then entered an order at the employer's request, severely limiting the discovery Thomai's attorneys could conduct. They were precleded from taking pictures of the machine, denied the right to depose witnesses and their records-investigation was severely curtailed. The employer then sought summary disposition, citing the lack of evidence that Thomai could produce to support his claim of virtually intentional injury, and the Court granted his motion.Thomai appealed and several months ago the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the trial judge's decisions. The three judge panel concluded that the trial judge had abused his discretion in severely restricting discovery and then summarily dismissing the claim. This week, the Michigan Supreme Court's Republican majority over-turned the Court of Appeals' opinion and again summarily dismissed Thomai's injury claim. The highest court's Republican Justices, who several years ago severely restricted an employer's responsibility for wantonly dangerous behavior, concluded that "there is simply no evidence in the record to establish that the defendants wilfully disregarded knowledge that an injury was certain to occur to the plaintiff in his operation of the grooving machine."
Under the "modern" Republican standard, even a statistical certainty of injury is not adequate to hold an employer responsible for causing an injury, absent evidence that the employer actually intended injury. Needless to say, with a threshold that high, almost no employer can be held accountable for wantonly dangerous behavior. Particularly where the Court limits the discovery available to the victim.