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Suit over woodworker’s death should have been dismissed: Appeals court


The Court of Appeals of North Carolina ruled that a lower court wrongly allowed a lawsuit initiated by the family of a deceased woodworker to proceed since the matter should have fallen under the jurisdiction of workers compensation.

The appeals court on Tuesday reversed a trial judge’s decision denying summary judgment to Randy Reinhardt, who worked as a supervisor with Dimension Wood Products Inc.

In March 2020, Rodney Baker, a 24-year company employee, died after being crushed by a machine.

His surviving spouse received workers compensation benefits, but the estate later filed suit against Mr. Reinhardt and his brother, David Reinhardt, for reckless negligence.

The estate argued the lawsuit was permitted because the nature of the alleged negligence was so serious that it should have been treated as an intentional injury falling outside of comp.  

The brothers sought to have the case dismissed based on workers comp exclusivity. A trial judge granted summary judgment to David Reinhardt but not his brother.   

The appeals court determined the trial judge should have also granted summary judgment to Randy Reinhardt.

The court wrote that “uncontroverted evidence” showed the company operated an award-winning safety program, and that Mr. Baker attended safety briefings in the weeks before his death.

The court said the Reinhardt brothers didn’t instruct Mr. Baker to clean around the machine at the time of his death, and that Mr. Baker’s estate failed to prove that the brothers acted with willful and reckless negligence.