A sanitation employee, who was preparing to urinate while standing on a platform on the back of a garbage truck, fell off the truck as it was backing up. He was killed after the truck backed over him. His family is seeking workers’ comp benefits because of a modification made to the truck.
Michael LaPoint’s family argues this is an intentional wrong exception under the Workers’ Compensation Act, and they should be paid death benefits.
His employer, a township in New Jersey, says LaPoint ignored warnings about riding on the back of garbage trucks, especially when they were backing up.
The rear sides of the truck had warning decals stating, “CAUTION: Do not use riding step when vehicle is exceeding 10 MPH, operating in reverse or traveling in excess of 2/10 miles.” The township also provided employees with pamphlets containing similar warnings.
However, the township installed a platform step on the back of the truck. LaPoint’s family said the modification “clearly provided a substantial hazard that was certain to result in accidents, injury or death.”
In support of that argument, the family showed that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) eliminated rear platform steps on sanitation trucks from its standards in 1999 because of backup accidents that had occurred.
The court ruled in favor of the township and denied death benefits. The judges wrote, “In cases where the workers’ compensation bar was pierced, courts have cited repeated or knowing violations of OSHA regulations. This court is not aware of any case law indicating that non-compliance with a non-binding advisory standard is sufficient to make a showing of intentional wrong.”
The court also said that, since warning stickers and pamphlets were distributed, LaPoint “should have appreciated the risk in riding on the truck in reverse.”
The family also disputed the witness testimony that LaPoint was getting ready to urinate into the back of the truck. The court said that wasn’t crucial to the case.
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Cite: Mann v. Packer, Superior Crt. of NJ Appellate Div., No. A-1293-08T2, 1/13/10.