Crane Accident In Oklahoma City: Another Wrongful Death?

Savannah Dunn on September 1, 2010

According to the Associated Press, one person was killed and another has been injured in a crane accident in northwest Oklahoma City.

The accident happened Tuesday evening around 8:30 p.m. at the Chesapeake Energy Corp. campus where there has been ongoing construction. NewsOK reported that the name of the man killed in the crane accident is Michael Parsons.

According to the Oklahoma City Police Department, the worker who was taken to the hospital did not have life-threatening injuries.

Many news sources have reported that Police think the crane malfunctioned and something fell off of it while the two victims were putting away equipment.

KFOR stated that the Crane is owned by Rent-A-Crane and the two victims were employees of Silvercliffe Construction of Edmond.

OKPD first processed the scene, but then turned over the investigation to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this morning.

According to OSHA, this is not the first time Rent-A-Crane was cited for the death of an employee:

Rent-A-Crane of Oklahoma Inc., owner and operator of the crane, has been cited with six alleged serious violations, including failure to guard the swing radius of the crane, and failure to maintain and operate the crane in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and industry standards. OSHA has proposed penalties totaling $11,250.

This is another tragic accident that has claimed the life of an innocent person. Further investigation will show whether or not this event was due to possible negligence or even a faulty product design.

This incident underscores Oklahoma legislature’s attempt to usurp law that has long allowed employees to sue their employers outside the workers compensation system.   Typically, employees are prohibited from suing their employers for injuries at work.  However, Oklahoma law has evolved to allow an employee to sue his or her employer for “intentional torts.”  In a 2005, however, the Oklahoma Supreme Court carved out an exception to the Act’s exclusive remedy provision in instances where the employee could demonstrate that his/her injury was the result of a condition that the employer was “substantially certain” to result in harm.  This type of lawsuit has been known as a Parrett claim.  In a Parrett claim, the worker must show the employer “. . . intended the act that caused the injury with knowledge that the injury was substantially certain to follow.”

However, in 2010 our legislature once again sought to limit the rights of individuals by enacting new amendments to Section 12 of the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Act.  In these amendments they have attempted to effectively eliminate the “substantial certainty” exception to the Act’s exclusive remedy provision.  Under these new amendments, Section 12 will read as follows (newly added text is underlined):

Section 12. The liability prescribed in Section 11 of this title shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability of the employer and any of his employees, any architect, professional engineer, or land surveyor retained to perform professional services on a construction project, at common law or otherwise, for such injury, loss of services, or death, to the employee, or the spouse, personal representative, parents, or dependents of the employee, or any other person, except in the case of an intentional tort, or where the employer has failed to secure the payment of compensation for the injured employee as provided for in Section 61 of this title. An intentional tort shall exist only when the employee is injured as a result of willful, deliberate, specific intent of the employer to cause such injury. Allegations or proof that the employer had knowledge that such injury was substantially certain to result from its conduct shall not constitute an intentional tort. The issue of whether an act is an intentional tort shall be a question of law for the court.

2010 Oklahoma Session Laws, Section 452 (HB 2650)

The moral of the story is this, once again the Oklahoma legislature has once again allowed companies to risk the lives of their employees without any consequences.  Employers can knowingly allow workers to work in situations where they know harm will occur.

Savannah Dunn

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