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Employee fails to show co-worker grossly negligent for his injuries

Posted On: Mar. 22, 2019 12:22 PM CST

electrical worker

An electrical worker hit by a downed utility pole failed to show his injuries were caused by gross negligence on the part of a co-worker.

In Van Dorn v. Hunter, a three-panel judge of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis affirmed on Thursday a district court’s decision that the worker’s claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Iowa Workers Compensation Act.

On Sept. 1, 2014, Edwin Van Dorn, who was an apprentice electrical linesman for PAR Electrical Contractors Inc., based in Kansas City, Missouri, was working with a team to repair lines that had been downed by a windstorm. A second team, led by Scott Hunter, had been dispatched to repair poles. As Mr. Hunter’s crew began to detach the static wire, which was still under tension, they decided a safety rope would not be sufficient and jerry-rigged a wire lip, which safely secures wires under tension. However, when Mr. Hunter’s team removed the pole, the wire snapped free and struck Mr. Van Dorn in the face, causing serious injuries that required multiple surgeries.

He filed a complaint against Mr. Hunter, alleging that he was grossly negligent and that his negligence caused his injuries. The Iowa District Court for Polk County in Des Moines granted summary judgment to Mr. Hunter, holding that Mr. Van Dorn’s claims were barred by the exclusive remedy of the state’s  Workers Compensation Act and that Mr. Hunter presented undisputed evidence that he and his crew were exposed to the same risk of injury and therefore could not have been aware of the imminence of the danger and probability of injury.

Mr. Van Dorn appealed, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals judges unanimously affirmed the decision. The circuit court held that Mr. Van Dorn failed to present evidence that Mr. Hunter knew that Mr. Van Horn’s injury was probable, noting that the team believed the jerry-rigged setup would be the best way to secure the wire. The court said that while Mr. Van Dorn’s eventual injuries suggest that the setup may have been negligent, an accusation of mere negligence fails to satisfies Iowa’s “stringent” requirements for allowing co-employee liability.

Attorneys for the workers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.