No Claim Against Company For Laying Off Injured Worker

p>Webb Wheel Products Inc. --manufacturers of wheels, wheel hubs, brake drums and disc-brake rotors for large trucks and trailers - hired David Joshua Hanvey in September 1999 to operate a drill press at one of its plants in Cullman, Ala.

On July 31, 2000, Hanvey injured his back at work, and reported the injury to his supervisor, Phillip Hill. He was sent to Webb's doctor, Dr. Dan Williams, who advised him not to work for one week. When Hanvey returned to work the next week, his back began to hurt, and Dr. Williams recommended an MRI and a consultation with a neurosurgeon. The MRI revealed three bulging disks. Webb transferred Hanvey to another doctor, who prescribed physical therapy. Hanvey was unable to work for about two and a half months. During this period, he filed for and received workers' compensation benefits, although he said that the checks were sometimes late or for the wrong amounts.

Hanvey, fitted with a back brace, returned to work on Oct. 18, 2000 and was assigned to work in the "woodpile." This involved stacking and repairing the wooden pallets that Webb uses to ship its products. Hanvey said he was told that there was no work for an additional drill press operator at the time he returned to work. The next day, Hanvey's back started to hurt, and when he asked his supervisor if he could get some Tylenol, he was told to sit down. According to Hanvey, when he returned to work his supervisor said, "We're going to have to let you go because of your back." However, the exit report filled out by Webb, indicated that Hanvey was laid off.

Webb started a reduction in force two weeks before Hanvey returned to work. Webb said the reduction was caused by a downturn in business. It laid off 37 workers.

On Jan. 10, 2001, Webb began recalling the laid-off employees. On Feb. 1, 2001, Hanvey filed a lawsuit against Webb, claiming he was terminated for filing a claim for workers compensation benefits. On March 2, 2001, Webb attempted to recall all the remaining employees it had laid off, including Hanvey. Hanvey's lawyer notified Webb that Hanvey would not be returning to work.

Hanvey's lawsuit went to trial, where he testified that he did not return to work because he thought he was fired and that he no longer trusted Webb Wheel. The jury returned a verdict awarding Hanvey $80,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages. Webb appealed to the Supreme Court of Alabama, asserting that it laid off Hanvey as part of a workforce reduction, and not in retaliation for filing a workers' comp claim. The Alabama high court agreed, and overturned the verdict for Hanvey.

WWW:Webb Wheel Products Inc. v. Hanvey, 922 So.2d 865 (Sup. Ct. Ala. 2005), Supreme Court of Alabama, June 3, 2005.
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