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The family of an Idaho woman killed when her hair got caught in a drive shaft at a seed plant cannot sue for negligence, defective product, and other claims because the state’s exclusive remedy provision bars them from tort litigation, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Francisca Gomez was cleaning under a seed-sifting table during her shift at wholesale seed distributor Crookham Co. in Caldwell, Idaho, in January 2016 when she was killed. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently investigated Crookham and issued "serious" violations to the company because it exposed its employees to the unguarded drive shaft without implementing lockout-tagout procedures, according to documents in Baltazar Gomez Jr., Estella Grimaldo, Elena Gomez, Elizabeth Freeman, Veronica Ferro, Zandra Pedroza, Alicia Gomez, Yesenia Gomez, and Baltazar Gomez III v. Crookham Co., filed in Boise.
OSHA had previously cited Crookham for violating machine guard safety standards and lockout-tagout protocol with its former picking tables, and yet a newly designed picking table where Ms. Gomez had been working did not have a fully guarded drive shaft and Crookham did not perform the required lockout-tagout procedures while employees cleaned the table, according to documents.
In 2016, the surviving Gomez family filed their complaint and demand for jury trial under nine causes of action: negligent design, failure to warn, strict liability-defective product, strict liability-failure to warn, breach of implied warranty of fitness and/or merchantability, breach of express warranty, strict liability-abnormally dangerous activity, negligence/negligence per se, and wrongful death.
Crookham moved for summary judgment. In 2017, the district court issued a memorandum decision dismissing the suit, explaining the claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of workers compensation law, and that the unprovoked physical aggression exception to the exclusive remedy rule did not apply, that Mrs. Gomez was working in the scope of her employment when the accident occurred, and that the Gomezes' product liability claims failed because Crookham was not a manufacturer of the picking table for product liability purposes.
Thursday’s high court ruling signed by three judges unanimously affirmed the trial court’s determination that exclusive remedy barred the lawsuit: “because the Gomezes were entitled to (and indeed did receive) worker's compensation benefits for Mrs. Gomez's death, the Industrial Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over their claim.”
The product liability claim also did not hold as Crookham is not the manufacturer of the picking table, according to the ruling, which also denied that court costs be paid by the company.
The Gomez family lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.
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