Tennessee Supreme Court denies workers compensation benefits to electrical lineman who did not use his rubber gloves.

In TROY MITCHELL v. FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC UTILITIES, the trial court awarded workers’ compensation benefits to an injured lineman who had violated a rule requiring the use of protective gloves while in a bucket lift. The employer appealed, contending that the statutory defenses of willful misconduct and, more particularly, the willful failure or refusal to use a safety appliance or device precluded recovery. The appeal was referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with T.C.A. Sec. 50-6-225(e)(3) (2008).  After oral argument before the Panel, but before the Panel filed its opinion, the case was transferred to the full Court. Because the evidence established that the employee admitted his knowledge of a regularly enforced safety rule, understood the rationale for the rule, and willfully (rather than negligently or recklessly) failed to comply, the injuries he suffered because of the rule violation were found not compensable by the Supreme Court. The judgment of the trial court was reversed and the case was dismissed.  This is another scary decision from the Supreme Court on this issue.  We fear it will only encourage more claims of wilfull violation of safety rules by employers, who frequently pressure employees to take short cuts while maintaining a facade of written safety rules.

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