Earlier this month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion concerning the viability of plaintiff’s Woodson claim — a wrongful death tort action based on an injury sustained at work. In Valenzuela v. Pallet Express Inc., the Court once again rejected a Woodson in what seemed to be an egregious case. Typically, plaintiffs injured at work can only bring claims under workers’ compensation, and not tort actions, such as for wrongful death. There is an exception, however, for injuries resulting from intentional misconduct by the employer or “conduct that, while not categorized as an intentional tort, was nonetheless substantially certain to cause serious injury or death to the employee.”
In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the employer: 1) removed safety guards from the shredder which sacrificed employee safety for increased production; 2) assigned an underage employee to work on heavy equipment in violation of State and federal law; 3) failed to provide Nery with proper training on the shredder; and 4) failed to ensure that trained personnel were present when the shredder was operated. The underage 17-year-old worker was left unattended and was killed when he apparently fell into the giant shredder machine. Nonetheless, the Court concluded that the employer’s alleged was not reckless enough to constitute a valid Woodson claim. Given the egregiousness of the conduct here, it is hard to imagine any non-intentional conduct that the Court would accept under Woodson.