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A negligence lawsuit filed against several contractors by a construction worker who fell off a wooden pallet lifted 15 feet off the ground by a forklift can proceed, an appeals court in Iowa ruled Wednesday.
Wearing only a hard hat for protection, Andres Lechuga was working in Randolph, Iowa, helping to build a grain bin for a company that had been subcontracted by another company, headed by a man who pleaded guilty to hiring undocumented workers and who failed to meet the requirement by the company that had initially hired his company — under another name — to build the grain bin to not hire subcontractors without approval, which would have required workers compensation certificates, according to documents in Andres Lechuga v. O & J Enterprises LLC et al., filed in the Court of Appeals of Iowa in Des Moines.
When Mr. Lechuga suffered his fall in 2014, he was an employee of Garcia Grain Structure LLC, which had an agreement with O & J Enterprises LLC, which went by the name of Manzano Grain Bin Services LLC prior to the company’s founder Juan Manzano-Huerta being sent to prison for hiring undocumented workers. All three businesses are named in Mr. Lechuga’s suit, filed in 2015. Mid-States Millwright & Builders, Inc., which subcontracted the job to Mr. Manzano-Huera’s company and did not know the job had been subcontracted out, was also named a defendant, according to documents chronicling the work-flow between subcontractors all aiming to build a grain bin.
O & J filed for a summary judgment, “claiming it did not exert any control over the job site” and that none of its employees were on site, documents state.
A district court granted the dismissal, ruling “(t)he Court agrees with (O & J) at this time (Mr. Lechuga) has not offered any evidence wherein a reasonable juror could conclude that O & J had an equal right of control over Garcia’s actions to call this a joint enterprise.” The court also found, “there is no showing that there was a principal-agent relationship between O & J and Garcia.” The court concluded, “there is no genuine issue of material fact existing and that it is appropriate to grant Defendant O & J’s motion for summary judgment,” according to documents.
The appeals court on Wednesday overturned the summary judgement in part, ruling that “(w)e find there are genuine issues of material fact on the questions of whether O & J had a subcontractor agreement with Garcia Grain or Garcia was O & J’s employee and whether O & J and Garcia or Garcia Grain had a principal-agent relationship.” The appeals court, however, affirmed the summary judgment to O & J on the issue of whether O & J was in a joint venture with MMB and Garcia or Garcia Grain.
The companies and attorneys involved could not immediately be reached for comment.
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.