The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court wrongly allowed a lawsuit brought by the family of a deceased woodworker to continue because the case should have fallen under workers’ compensation jurisdiction.
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-old company employee, died after being crushed by a machine.
His surviving spouse received workers’ compensation, but the estate later sued Reinhardt and his brother, David Reinhardt, for reckless negligence.
The estate argued that the suit was allowed because the nature of the alleged negligence was so serious that it should have been treated as an intentional injury falling outside comp.
The brothers requested that the case be dismissed on the grounds of worker exclusivity. A trial judge granted summary judgment to David Reinhardt but not his brother.
The appeals court held that the trial judge should also have granted summary judgment to Randy Reinhardt.
The court wrote that “uncontroverted evidence”; showed that the company operated an award-winning safety program, and that Mr. Baker attended security briefings in the weeks before his death.
The court said the Reinhardt brothers did not instruct Mr. Baker to clean around the machine at the time of his death, and that Mr. Baker’s estate was unable to prove that the brothers acted with willful and reckless negligence.