Worker Can Sue Dumpster Company
An industrial plant worker who fell while walking near a dumpster outside the plant where he worked won the right to take his claims against the plant’s cafeteria food service operators to trial. While most work-related injuries are compensable only through workers’ compensation benefits, injured workers do have the additional right to sue third parties whose negligence or recklessness contributed to their injuries.
In this case, the worker slipped on what appeared to be cooking oil that had leaked from the dumpster. He testified that he fell suddenly when his feet “came out from underneath” him all at once and he landed “hard on his hands and knees.” His hands were sticky and smelled of cooking oil immediately after the fall. The injured man claimed that the food service company’s careless dumping of cooking oil had been the cause of his fall.
The court noted that the food service company’s first obligations were directly to the plant operator. The court also observed that generally, a party to a contract does not become liable to third parties if the contract is breached. But where strangers to a contract are at risk of harm if a party does not perform its contractual obligations carefully, the laws of negligence do extend liability to the contract party.
In this case, plant management employees testified that the plant managed the dumpster but that plant regulations required that the food service company place cooking oil in trash bags or sealed pails. On the day of the injured man’s fall, plant employees noticed that there was an old box of cooking oil in the dumpster that had not been sealed in a pail or trash bag. Plant employees also testified that because of the hazards ice poses to trash collectors, holes had been drilled in the bottoms of the dumpsters to prevent ice buildup in winter and that the food service company was aware of the holes.
The court found that the food service company had contracted with the plant to provide for the safe disposal of cooking oil according to plant procedures. The court found further that the injured man was entitled to present at trial his claims that the food service company’s failure to dispose of the cooking oil safely had caused his injuries.
If you are injured at work or elsewhere, be sure to carefully review which persons and entities are involved in, and what their responsibilities are for, maintaining the safety of the place where you were injured. If you are an employer, make sure that your contracts with service providers clearly define the standards of workplace safety.