What happens when the widow of an employee killed at work is allowed to sue the employer over and above workers’ comp benefits? Once a judge allows a lawsuit to go forward, an expensive settlement, such as this one, is often the result.
Certified Steel of Hamilton, NJ, will pay Marcia Austin, the widow of Wayne Austin, $1.8 million in connection with the death of her husband at work.
Austin, a 47-year-old father of four, was killed when a co-worker operating a 20-ton crane accidentally crashed a bundle of steel into another one, causing 13,000 tons of metal to strike Austin in the head.
The lawsuit accused Certified Steel of operating a hazardous workplace devoid of safety measures and run by untrained employees.
The suit alleged the company’s owner, Sydney Sussman, was aware that there were often collisions similar to the one that killed Austin, but he did nothing to protect his employees.
Records showed damning evidence against the company. Before Austin’s death, Certified Steel asked the crane’s manufacturer how to prevent pieces of equipment from colliding. But the company didn’t implement the suggested solutions which included employee training.
In a deposition in the case, Sussman said, “the whole place is a hazard. [OSHA] knows that. I know that.”
To sue beyond workers’ comp in New Jersey, a company’s actions must amount to intentional wrongdoing.
In an opinion that would have sent the case to trial had a settlement not been worked out, a New Jersey judge wrote, “the working environment that [Austin] found himself in was inherently dangerous. It was substantially certain that an accident resulting in personal injury or death would occur.”
A year before Austin was killed, another Certified Steel employee died from injuries after several large pieces of steel fell on him.
A crane supplier, Morris Material Handling, will also pay Marcia Austin $1.05 million as part of the settlement.
The terms of the settlement were uncovered in court documents obtained by The Trenton Times.