Plaintiff was a 50-year-old journeyman electrician who was placed by an employment agency in the employ of a large corporate landowner.
The corporation forced plaintiff to change a circuit breaker while the electrical current was still running.
While plaintiff was screwing in the circuit breaker there was an electrical arc, probably caused by faulty material, and a large explosion occurred, throwing plaintiff backward while his body was set on fire.
Plaintiff was rescued and survived the incident. However, he had burns over a large portion of his body and was left with deficits in movement and significant scarring. On the positive side, after several years plaintiff was cleared to return to work, although with less endurance.
The company relied upon an obscure legal doctrine, called the “dual employer doctrine” to defend itself. It claimed that even though plaintiff was hired by an employment agency he was, in fact, employed by both the employment agency and defendant company. Thus, plaintiff’s remedy was restricted to workers’ compensation, which would have limited his recovery to several hundred thousand dollars.
Further, the company claimed that plaintiff was responsible for his own injuries because he was not wearing appropriate gear, and as an experienced electrician, he knew better than to change a circuit breaker without first turning off the electricity running through the panel.
Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP, was retained to prosecute plaintiff’s claim. The law firm began an immediate and intensive investigation which turned up significant evidence that the foreman for the company acted negligently by having the plaintiff replace the breaker while the panel was “hot.” In addition, the law firm retained electrical experts who performed their own investigation and combed through thousands of pages of documents to establish the liability of the company.
The law firm was able to overcome the technical defense raised by the company by establishing that although plaintiff did have to listen to the particular order to replace the circuit breaker while there was electrical current running through the panel, he otherwise was an independent contractor and not under the control of defendant in such a way that the dual employment doctrine would apply.
Further, plaintiff’s experts were able to put forth theories that under the particular circumstances of the subject job, plaintiff was not in any way responsible for his own injuries.
RESULT: Settlement on behalf of plaintiff —