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Supervisors’ Failure To Install A Safer Saw That Was On The Premises Is Not Equivalent To A Removal Of A Safety Guard For Purposes Of Liability Under The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act

In Saarinen v. Hall, 26 ALW 36-8 (1160066), 9/1/2017, the Supreme Court held that the failure of the employee’s supervisors to install a safer saw that was on the employer’s premises was not the equivalent of removing a safety guard from an existing saw so as to subject the supervisors to liability under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.

In 2014, Louis Hall (“Hall”) was injured while operating a power saw at work.  He sued Williams Manufacturing, Inc., who owned the plant where Hall worked, and co-employees Bobby Saarinen and Chris Williams (Co-Employees).  The Co-Employees were supervisory employees.

The Co-Employees filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that on the subject accident date, Hall was operating a saw manufactured by Kalamazoo Industries, Inc. and that the saw had been manufactured with a guard covering a portion of the blade.  Hall did not believe the guard was adequate however, and prior to his injury, at Hall’s request, Williams Manufacturing installed an additional guard onto the saw.  After Hall’s injury, Williams Manufacturing replaced the saw with one manufactured by a different company which had been delivered at least one (1) month prior to Hall’s accident.  Hall testified that it had not been installed because Williams Manufacturing was too busy to install it at the time.

The trial court denied the Co-Employees’ Motion for Summary Judgment and then certified the controlling question of law pursuant to Rule 5(a), Ala. R. App. P., of whether not installing a “safer” saw was the equivalent of removing a safety guard under Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-11(c)(2).

The Court reversed the trial court’s Order denying the Co-Employees’ Motion, noting that in the present case, there was no evidence that the Co-Employees failed to install a guard provided by the manufacturer of the saw that Hall had been using, or that they failed to maintain or repair the guard that was provided.  Further, the Court noted that the additional guard installed on the saw Hall was using did not bypass the original guard.  Accordingly, the Court held that the failure to install another “safer” saw present on the premises, was not the same as removing a safety guard so as to constitute “willful conduct” under Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-11(c)(2).