CHARLESTON – The state’s highest court has affirmed a circuit court’s award of summary judgment to Grafton Truss and Panel Company in a case in which an employee blamed the company for allowing employee misconduct that led to his injury.
The court issued the unanimous memorandum opinion on April 12.
Charles Lucian Hall, Jr. alleged that Grafton Truss and Panel Company, doing business as Grafton Homes, and unknown employees were liable for injuries he received when a “tripping device” was placed in his path at the company’s plant. Hall stated that he had tripped over an extension cord that had been stretched across an aisle and that this was done intentionally to cause him to fall.
He testified that a similar trap had been placed in the same area on another occasion but that he had seen the cord and avoided falling.
At trial, Hall testified that he did not tell anyone about these two incidents when they happened, however, and only told “somebody” at the company that he would not be coming to work because of the tripping incident that led to his injury when he called in to work the following day.
The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant company on June 7, 2008.
On appeal, the Supreme Court found that Hall’s testimony in the circuit court action lacked detail, and that it showcased a history of his non-reporting of alleged mistreatment by fellow employees at the plant.
“For example,” the opinion states, “the petitioner said that he had been the target of drywall-throwing coworkers on five or six occasions, but stated that he did not know who had thrown the drywall and did not recall whether he had reported that drywall had been thrown.
“He said he was frequently pelted by nails from behind, though he could not identify the individuals who had thrown the nails and did not report being hit by nails because ‘foremen were all aware of the drywall being throw.’
“The petitioner was, however, able to identify one of his alleged tormentors. He testified that Brian Roy threw drywall at him, 'butted' him into a wall, locked him in a closet and flatulated and, finally, in December of 2003, set the petitioner’s nail pouch afire, while the petitioner was wearing it.
“The petitioner and Mr. Roy had an off-premises altercation after the petitioner reported the nail pouch incident to a supervisor, for which altercation Mr. Roy was arrested. The petitioner testified that Mr. Roy’s employment was terminated for his part in the incident.
“Under the circumstances described through this testimony, the petitioner simply cannot overcome the high threshold demanded for a deliberate intention action.
“On each of the rare occasions that the petitioner reported misdeeds to the respondent, the respondent appears to have taken corrective action. In fact, the petitioner alleges ongoing abuse by only one employee, and that person’s employment was terminated by the end of January of 2004, nearly a year and a half before the petitioner’s tripping incident.
“If the petitioner continued to suffer maltreatment at the hands of his co-workers after the termination of Mr. Roy, or if other employees routinely engaged in dangerous shenanigans, it does not appear that the respondent knew or had reason to know about the conduct. And there is certainly no reason to impute knowledge of tripping hazards to the respondent, when the petitioner testified he came upon such a hazard on only one other occasion, but did not fall victim to the earlier trap or tell anyone about it.
“Under these circumstances, we simply cannot find any support for the petitioner’s contention that the respondent had the actual, specific intent that he suffer harm."