Safety and OSHA News

Jury awards $2.2M to worker for back injury

What happens when a company chooses to go without workers’ comp insurance? One potential result is a large jury award when an employee is injured, such as what happened in this case. 

A jury in Texas says employee Asa Ferrell’s lower back injury was caused when he was separating and sorting boxes weighing 65 to 100 pounds in tight quarters. Now his employer, Tyson Foods, is out $2,248,927.

Ferrell sued Tyson for his workplace injuries. Jurors awarded Ferrell:

  • $498,382 for physical impairment
  • $774,478 for pain and suffering
  • $111,531 for mental anguish and emotional distress
  • $505,936 for lost earning capacity, and
  • $358,600 for past and future medical expenses.

While the payout is large, it could have been bigger. The jury refused to award Ferrell anything for disfigurement or for two other injuries Ferrell attributed to work.

Ferrell’s complaint against Tyson alleged a dangerous work environment, specifically that the company knew of the dangerous conditions but failed to make changes or warn workers.

The box-lifting incident occurred in August 2013. Although proper lifting procedures would’ve prevented lower back injuries, the tight quarters where Ferrell had to maneuver the boxes prevented him from using proper lifting techniques, according to the lawsuit. Ferrell also claimed Tyson failed to provide the necessary equipment or assistance.

The lawsuit said as a result of his lower back injuries, Ferrell is permanently impaired, has lost and will continue to lose earnings, and will continue to incur medical expenses.

Tyson is a non-subscriber to workers’ compensation insurance in Texas, which is one of only two states (Oklahoma is the other) where employers can opt out of carrying coverage.

“We’re disappointed by the jury verdict, especially given our efforts to help any worker hurt on the job,” a company spokesman told the publication Meat + Poultry. “We’ll be examining our legal options including the possibility of an appeal,” the spokesman said.

The case was tried in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Texas.

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