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A federal appeals court says a lower court should not have dismissed a wrongful death case filed against a General Electric Co. subsidiary that was filed by the widow of a worker crushed in a forklift accident, in a divided ruling.
In 2012, David Morgan, who worked in a Casper, Wyoming, warehouse operated by Baker Petrolite Inc., a subsidiary of GE unit Baker Hughes Inc., was working alone when he was killed when a 4,500-pound chemical tote that was suspended 18 inches off the ground by a forklift tipped forward and crushed him to death, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Denver in Katherine K. Morgan v. Baker Hughes Inc.
Baker Hughes had acquired BJ Services Co., then owner of the warehouse, in 2010. Baker Hughes promulgated a comprehensive procedural manual on forklift safety that became effective about seven months before Mr. Morgan’s death, although it was not specifically given to him, according to the ruling.
Ms. Morgan filed a wrongful death suit against Baker Hughes in U.S. District Court in Casper, Wyoming. After the trial, but before the case was submitted to the jury, the District Court granted the company “judgment as a matter of law” dismissing the case.
An appeals court panel reinstated the case in a 2-1 ruling.
“We must consider whether the evidence presented at trial is reasonably susceptible to the inference that Baker Hughes controlled operations at the Casper warehouse ‘to such a degree that it directed how’ forklift safety ‘should or should not be done,’’’ said the ruling, in quoting an earlier decision.
“We conclude that the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to satisfy this standard and presented the evidentiary conflict that would have best been resolved by the jury,” said the majority opinion.
“The organizational structure at Baker Hughes, the lack of clarity regarding who worked for Baker Hughes as opposed to Baker Pentolite, and the level of detail in Baker Hughes documents regulating forklift safety all reasonably support the inference that Baker Hughes controlled forklift safety to an extent sufficient to sustain liability under Wyoming law,” said the opinion, in holding that the grant of judgment as a matter of law should not have been granted.
The dissenting opinion said, “Morgan’s evidence failed to show how Baker Hughes Incorporated ... retained or exercised control over forklift operation, safety, and training at Baker Pentolite’s warehouse sufficient to hold it liable for Morgan’s death under Wyoming law.”
The case was remanded for further proceedings.
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