A bridge inspector died when he was pinned between an aerial lift and an overpass beam. His employer contested death benefits for his widow, arguing he violated a work rule. How did a court decide this case?
Tripat Mann worked for M.A. Beech Corp. in Pennsylvania as a bridge inspector.
One day in June 2013, he was the only occupant of an aerial lift at a job site when he became pinned between the lift and the beam of an overpass. Mann was slumped over the lift’s control panel, with a steel bridge beam across his shoulder and neck. Mann died of compression and blunt force trauma to the chest.
His widow filed a workers’ comp fatal claim petition, but the company denied it. Beech argued Mann’s violation of a work rule meant he wasn’t in the course and scope of employment when he was fatally injured.
A workers’ comp judge (WCJ) and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board both ruled in favor of Mann’s widow. The company appealed to a state court.
Did company enforce rule?
Beech said it had a rule prohibiting inspectors from operating aerial lifts.
But the company’s employee handbook in June 2013 didn’t list any specific rule about aerial lifts. There was a general rule that an employee “not attempt to use any machine or equipment you do not know how to operate, or if you have not completed training on the proper use of the machine or equipment.”
After Mann’s death, Beech issued a policy note specifically addressing an inspector’s use of an aerial lift. The policy stated an inspector was to use the contractor who provided the equipment and its qualified operator.
The WCJ determined that the policy change implied Beech had no specific rule about aerial lift use at the time of Mann’s death.
On top of that, another Beech employee testified he’d seen Mann operate an aerial lift at other job sites. The WCJ found Mann had been using an aerial lift for years and that Beech didn’t discipline him. The judge said even if Beech had a rule that an inspector shouldn’t operate an aerial lift, it clearly waived enforcement of the rule.
The state court took all this into consideration and added this: Even if Mann had violated a work rule, it would still be appropriate to grant the fatality claim. Reason: Mann was attempting to do his job at the time of his injury.
The state court upheld the previous ruling awarding Mann’s widow workers’ comp death benefits.
The simple take-home: Put safety rules in writing and enforce them.
(M.A. Beech Corp. v. Mann, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 45 C.D.2017, 11/3/17)