There are employees that work within the shipping channels of Houston and elsewhere, each and every day. They are involved in welding, oiltanking, and much more. Each of these employees are exposed to various dangers every year – and accidents have been known to happen. This is why so many workers will turn to a workplace injury attorney at one point or another.
In June of 2012, one such accident took place. An explosion happened at Oiltanking Houston, which is an oil storage terminal inside of Channelview. The welder who was working at the time was decapitated. He had 20 years of experience and therefore it wasn’t through lack of training or experience that this accident happened.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration got involved and fined the company $14,000 for not having the industry-standard safeguards in place that would have saved the welder’s life. There was then a 6-week trial that led to jurors awarding the man’s family $21 million.
However, the verdict was overturned and this is where it is going to be bad for workers within the ship channel. workplace injury attorneys and workplace safety experts are fearful of what this could mean.
The verdict could potentially make it possible for plant owners to be immune from lawsuits if contractors and workers become injured or are killed at the facilities. It also means that workers could be severely endangered if safety protocols are not followed as specifically as they need to be because there would no longer be the looming possibility of a lawsuit worth millions of dollars.
A safety engineering expert hired by a workplace injury attorney said that the court decision basically tells workers to beware. There is not much that the law is doing to protect the workers.
The decision by the court centers upon a part of the Chapter 95 state law, which was part of the tort reform that took place through the 1990s. It was designed to protect landowners from lawsuits that were frivolous in nature by contractors who injure themselves on property. It essentially means that under the law, landowners are not held liable for injuries from independent contractors should the landowner not have any “actual knowledge” of the hazardous conditions that were ultimately the case for the injury or death of the worker.
Essentially, this means that if a contractor was killed as a result of hazardous conditions and the landowner was not aware of the conditions, the family would not be able to sue, even with the help of a workplace injury attorney.
In the case regarding the welder who was decapitated at Oiltanking Houston, the original ruling was overturned citing Chapter 95 because the landowner did not have knowledge of the conditions.
The courts have now set an impossibly high bar when it comes to holding companies accountable. It is nearly impossible to do so now, which would potentially allow more and more companies to get away with not keeping standards in place. This is bad news for workers because plant owners can have plausible deniability. If they don’t test or clean, they will never be “in the know.”
With the court ruling now being used as a standard, it is up to employees to be more careful at work. They may or may not have the ability to sue because it will be harder for them to show that the company they were working for had knowledge of the conditions. This is not to say it’s impossible, however. It simply means that the bar has been set higher and therefore a workplace injury attorney needs to work harder in order to bring out the truth and showcase the shortcomings of the company to keep their employees and/or contractors safe on premises.
If you or loved ones have ever been involved in such accidents in the ship channel, it’s important to contact a workplace injury attorney at GOM Law today for a free consultation.