CHARLESTON – A Webster County woman is suing the West Virginia Department of Transportation-Division of Highways after she claims it is responsible for her son's death.
Rob & Sons Construction & Excavation LLC and Golden Eagle Technical Services LLC were also named as defendants in the suit.
Mitchell A. Sanson was employed by Rob & Sons as a laborer and after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, WVDOH opened up a bidding process for contractors to bid on certain cleanup projects, according to a complaint filed April 30 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Maxann Lunsford claims on Dec. 7, 2012, WVDOH entered into a contract with Rob & Sons for the cleanup of W.Va. 20 and on Dec. 12, 2012, Rob & Sons entered into an agreement with Golden Eagle for the company to provide support services, administration, supervision, control, monitoring, oversight and to act on behalf of Rob & Sons during the cleanup project.
On May 2, 2013, Sanson was required to work in an area containing unsafe conditions and other hazards associated with the removal of timber and debris from the property near W.Va. 20 and, contrary to industry safety standards and state and federal logging regulations, the worksite was not properly and adequately inspected and maintained to prevent serious injury and/or death from falling objects, according to the suit.
Lunsford claims Sanson and his co-workers had not received the proper and required training and personal protective equipment mandated under applicable state and federal logging regulations and consensus industry safety standards.
Without making a proper inspection of the work area for hazards to ensure a safe workplace and without ensuring that Sanson and his co-workers had received the proper training and equipment, the defendants directed Sanson and his co-workers to perform logging and emergency debris removal operations on the property and roadway, according to the suit.
Lunsford claims the defendants instructed the work crew to cut down a known "danger tree."
Two locust trees were situated next to one another on the side of a steep slope approximately 15 feet from the roadway, according to the suit. Rather than safely removing the first tree that became entangled in the second tree, Rob & Sons work crew cut the second tree in order to fell both trees at the same time.
Lunsford claims as the second tree was being felled, a portion of the trees broke loose, striking Sanson in the back of his head, neck and shoulder, pinning him on the roadway near the yellow center line.
Sanson sustained catastrophic and eventually fatal crushing injuries as a result of the incident, according to the suit, and continued to suffer until his death ten days later.
Lunsford claims OSHA conducted a full-scale investigation into the death of Sanson and issued several contributing citations for the defendants' failure to comply with mandatory logging safety regulations that resulted in Sanson's death.
As a result of the defendants' acts and/or omissions, which caused Sanson's wrongful death, the defendants are liable to Lunsford for damages for Sanson's pain and suffering; sorrow, mental anguish and solace; compensation for reasonably expected loss of income and earning capacity; compensation for reasonably expected services, protection, care and assistances; reasonable funeral expenses; and other expenses.
Lunsford is seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. She is being represented by Timothy C. Bailey and J. Ryan Stewart of Bucci Bailey & Javins LC; Sandra B. Harrah of Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler PLLC; and Joyce H. Morton.
The case is assigned to Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 15-C-830