Alabama Supreme Court Weighs Wrongful Death in Lemley v. Wilson

It is well-established under Alabama’s workers’ compensation law that the exclusive remedy workers have to pursue action against their employer is worker’s compensation. That means employees in most cases can’t sue their company for on-the-job injuries.

However, workers can pursue legal action against third parties who may be responsible for injuries arising from employment.

Such was the case in Lemley v. Wilson, wherein a city-employed worker was struck by a vehicle while directing traffic. He later died of his injuries. The worker’s father pursued legal action against the driver who struck him.

The case went to trial, and jurors sided with defendant. However, trial court granted plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. Defendant appealed, and the issue of the new trial was heard by the Alabama Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded. The high court ruled there was ample evidence to support jury’s findings, even if there was also ample evidence to support plaintiff’s assertions.

Disputed matters of fact are precisely why we have trials, and juries are given broad discretion in determining which facts they choose to believe. That’s why it’s so important for Montgomery wrongful death lawyers to present all relevant information in a clear, concise and compelling way.

According to court records, decedent and his supervisor were sent to mow a patch of grass on a clear, sunny day. He, his boss and four prisoners out on work detail worked through the morning and then took a break for lunch, leaving their gear – including decedent’s orange safety vest – at the work site.

While returning from lunch, decedent received an urgent call from another city worker, asking him and his crew to flag traffic for him while he operated a knuckle-boom truck at another location. The driver’s truck had gotten partially stuck in the roadway, and he told decedent there was no time for him to run back and get his gear.

Supervisor would later testify decedent helped direct some 16 vehicles safely around the protruding truck. However, there were no flashing lights or signs or orange cones or anything else to warn of the presence of a truck stuck in the road.

At some point, two of the prisoners went to the truck to get cigarettes and were no longer monitoring traffic. Decedent was still flagging traffic when defendant driver approached, fresh off a 16.5-hour shift at a local steam plant. As he rounded the top of the hill, he saw the truck in the roadway, and suddenly, decedent stepped out into the road and threw his hands up, in a “Stop!” gesture. However, defendant said despite slamming on his brakes, he couldn’t stop in time. The truck slid some 24 feet, but still struck the decedent. He was later pronounced dead.

Decedent’s father sued the driver of that vehicle. At least one witness said she never heard tires squeal or anything that would indicate the driver tried to slow down. The assertion by plaintiffs was that that the worker was sleep-deprived, and this was the cause of the crash. The speed limit on the road was 25 mph, but defendant was traveling approximately 40 mph when he hit the brakes.

Troopers cited speed as the cause of the crash.

However, defense argued proper flagging procedures weren’t followed, and this played a significant role in the crash. Decedent was not wearing a safety vest, driver had not been warned with cautionary signs or signals and decedent voluntarily stepped into the road directly into the path of oncoming traffic.

Jurors sided with defense. However, trial court granted a new trial because it found the verdict was not sustained or supported by a great preponderance of the evidence. Alabama Supreme Court reversed on appeal, finding the jury’s decision was not unreasonable.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Lemley v. Wilson, March 6, 2015, Alabama Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Stuhlmacher v. Home Depot – Ladder Defect Case to be Retried, Jan. 12, 2015, Montgomery Work Injury Lawyer Blog

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