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Family can’t sue over trench-related death


The family of a man who died two days after a trench collapsed on him can’t sue his employer, an appeals court in Ohio ruled Tuesday, affirming a trial court decision that found the employer was not negligent despite multiple U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.

Marcus A. Mennett was working for Stauffer Site Services LLC, which was hired to provide excavating and installation services for a street project in Hillsboro, Ohio, when the city’s Public Works superintendent stopped work over trench hazards.

While the employer was mitigating the hazard — locating trench boxes to safely secure its edges — the trench collapsed on Mr. Mennett, who had returned to the bottom of the trench “at some point after the work-stop order was issued,” according to documents in the Estate of Marcus A. Mennett v. Stauffer Site Services, LLC, et al., filed in the Court of Appeals of Ohio, 12th District, Warren County.

Following his death and an investigation, OSHA issued a citation and notification of penalty to Stauffer, citing multiple violations of safety regulations and willful violation of the requirement for trench protection systems.

Mr. Mennett's family later filed a wrongful death/survivorship action, and the employer filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.

In affirming the trial court decision, the appeals court said,

“The record contains no evidence that Mennett's coworkers acted to force him to continue to work in the trench once (the employer) determined that water in the trench had made the conditions unsafe.

“Instead, the undisputed facts of record indicate that (the employer) ordered that work stop on the trench and that (the supervisors) left to retrieve a trench box to make the conditions safer. During that time, all workers abandoned work on the trench, with workers doing different things during the break. For an unknown reason, Mennett reentered the trench before the accident occurred, but there is no evidence that Mennett's actions were based upon any act from his coworkers that required him to reenter and work in the trench.”