Lack of intent means employer not liable for accident

While working for Delta Container in Louisiana, on Sept. 13, 2001, James Burrow and another employee set up a Revicart folder-gluer machine to run a small specialty box. On the initial run, a flap was not folding right so the plant supervisor, Craig Hartz

Burrow v. Delta Container,
887 So.2d 599
(La.App. 2004),
Court of Appeal of Louisiana,
Oct. 26, 2004.

While working for Delta Container in Louisiana, on Sept. 13, 2001, James Burrow and another employee set up a Revicart folder-gluer machine to run a small specialty box. On the initial run, a flap was not folding right so the plant supervisor, Craig Hartzheim, instituted a method of straightening the box by hand as it passed from the gluer aerial belt to the drying compression belt, before exiting the machine.

Prior to that day, the safety devices on the doors of the machine had been disconnected so operators could access the machine interior and straighten boxes not coming out correctly. All the operators knew about this. On the morning of Sept. 13, Hartzheim assigned the job of fixing the flaps to Virgil Barbarin and showed him how to do it. At the morning break, Barbarin switched jobs with Burrows without telling anyone. Burrow performed Barbarin's job for about two hours when his right arm contacted the aerial belt and was drawn into and around the roller, seriously injuring his wrist.

Burrow received workers'-comp benefits from Delta, but he also sued for additional damages, arguing Delta had willfully and intentionally disregarded his safety. Louisiana, like most states, makes workers'comp benefits an injured employee's sole remedy against his employer, but makes an exception when the employee's injury results from the employer's intentional tort.

The Louisiana trial court ruled for Delta. On appeal to the state Court of Appeal, that court noted Louisiana courts narrowly interpret "intentional tort" to include a situation where a person consciously desires the result of his act, or knows that the result is substantially certain to follow from his conduct. The court concluded there were no facts presented to support a finding of intent, within the meaning of the workers'-comp-intentional-act exclusion. No one intended for Burrow, or anyone, to be injured. The method, though unsafe, was used to correct a problem inherent in the machine. Furthermore, the accident was not substantially certain to follow within the meaning of the workers'-comp law.

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