When do OSHA Regulations Apply in Georgia Personal Injury?

In a recent consolidated case, a commercial truck driver was hurt when he fell off his employer’s (TMC) loaded truck at a facility owned by Georgia-Pacific, LLC. He had driven one of the company’s tractor-trailers to Georgia-Pacific to pick up a load of wood paneling. He was an experienced commercial truck driver and later testified that every load was uneven on top to some extent.

While he waited in a break room, a Georgia-Pacific employee loaded the trailer and there was an uneven surface on top of the load. Afterward, he climbed to the top and covered it with Visqueen as was required by his job duties. Georgia-Pacific supplied the Visqueen. The man had previously covered the loads with Visqueen on prior occasions. Georgia-Pacific’s workers were not allowed to climb onto the trailer.

On top of the load, the man crawled along the load unfolding the Visqueen and leaving places uncovered at both ends so he could stand there. When he got down, he completed his task of wrapping the sides and tying down the corners.  He started covering the load with tarp. He was in the middle of unfolding one of the tarps when he stepped into the load, lost his balance and fell off the trailer. He was severely injured.
A Georgia-Pacific forklift operator responded to his fall. The operator later testified that the man had blamed himself for being “stupid” in falling off his own trailer. He was airlifted to the hospital.

He sued Georgia-Pacific. In June 2011, Georgia-Pacific moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed. He argued that Georgia-Pacific had not implemented OSHA regulations requiring fall protections for workers who were wrapping loads in Visqueen.

The appellate court disagreed. It explained that a plaintiff who sues for negligence must prove (1) a legal duty to conform to a standard of conduct in order to protect others from unreasonable risks (2) breach, (3) proximate and actual cause, and (4) actual losses.

The plaintiff had cited its OSHA expert’s deposition which cited regulations that weren’t followed and would have supplied the plaintiff with fall protection. The appellate court explained that these cited OSHA regulations didn’t provide that the owner of a truck loading dock would have to provide fall protection to workers on trailers. Rather they included a standard that an employer should assess the workplace to see whether any dangers were present or likely to be present. The appellate court explained that this was a general admonition not a specific requirement for fall protection surfaces. The other regulation that did require fall protection devices did not include tractor-trailers as places where fall protection is required.

Moreover, the court explained that OSHA imposed a duty of care only between an employer and employees. Georgia-Pacific was not the plaintiff’s employer and owed him no OSHA-related duties. The court further found that summary judgment was proper because the facts showed the man had knowledge of the dangers posed by uneven surfaces of loads.

If you are hurt on somebody else’s property, you may be able to file a personal injury or premises liability suit. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.

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