Michael v American Hardwood Industries, LLC,

Michael was injured in an accident at a sawmill. His job required him to clear excess pieces of wood that accumulated on a log deck (i.e., a conveyor surface). A chain, similar to a bicycle chain, ran along the edge of the deck and made it move. The chain was at least ten times as large as a bicycle chain.

While focused on removing the excess wood, Michael accidentally placed both hands on the chain. His fingers went under the chain, and he lost all or parts of fingers from both hands.

Michael’s injuries clearly arose from an accident related to his work. Still, the Workers’ Compensation Act relieves a workers’ compensation insurer from all liability if the worker was injured due to his or her willful breach of a rule or willful misconduct. In this case, the workers’ compensation insurer argued that Michael had (i) willfully violated a rule prohibiting entry in the area where he was injured and (ii) willfully placed his hands on the chain.

The hearing before the Deputy Commissioner consumed an afternoon. The workers’ compensation insurer called several witnesses in its effort to support the aforesaid defenses. The resulting hearing transcript was 230 pages!

The Deputy Commissioner rejected the workers’ compensation insurer’s defenses and granted Michael an award. The workers’ compensation insurer sought review by (i.e., appealed to) the full Workers’ Compensation Commission. The full Commission agreed with and affirmed the Deputy Commissioner’s findings that (i) no rule forbade Michael from entering the area where he was injured and (ii) Michael was at most negligent in placing his hands on the moving chain. Negligent conduct is no bar to a workers’ compensation award.

The workers’ compensation insurer tried very hard to prevent Michael from receiving an award for his grievous injuries. He received an award only through the hard and sustained work of several HammondTownsend lawyers and paralegals.

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