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Appeals court tosses civil suit over worker death

pistacio processing facility

An appeals court in California on Tuesday granted a summary judgment to a pistachio processing facility after the widow of a man who died while maintaining a machine attempted to sue the company, asserting in part that the suit did not meet the legal bar for a lawsuit outside of the workers compensation exclusive remedy.

At issue is the machine that crushed Fernando Santiesteban at the Terra Bella, California, plant in 2011 when another worker accidentally started the machine. His widow Sylvia Ochoa had claimed in her lawsuit that the machine was considered a “power press,” which California law states can be the source of a civil lawsuit outside of comp if the machine and the situation meets certain requirements, according to documents in Ochoa v. Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., filed in the Court of Appeals of California, Fifth District, in Fresno, California.

The Tulare Court Superior Court in 2016 granted a summary judgment filed by the defendants who argued in part that the machine in question was a conveyer-style “auger” and not a press that used a die, and that the company had not manufactured the machine — addressing the product liability portion of Ms. Ochoa’s lawsuit.

On appeal, a three-judge panel affirmed the ruling, describing the auger as a machine that is not a press, therefore not meeting the legal standard for civil liability, and accepting the argument that the company did not manufacture the machine, according to the ruling.

The company’s attorney told Business Insurance on Thursday the lawsuit was one that should have “never been filed” in that it “clearly did not meet the exception” for tort suits outside of exclusive remedy.

“What this case really represents is the determination with which the plaintiffs’ bar will pursue compensation on the severity of the outcome (of an accident) and in this case, a fatality,” said Anthony Raimondo, Fresno attorney and president of Raimondo & Associates Corp.

The company nor the other attorney involved could immediately be reached for comment.






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