A 36-year-old immigrant from Haiti was one of 23 temporary workers crammed onto particle board bench seats of a modified passenger van in Indiana when the speeding driver yanked the wheel in a maneuver intended to get around a slower truck. That’s the last thing the woman remembers. She woke up days later from a coma, having suffered severe head trauma, fractured vertebrae, shattered arm bones and shards of glass still imbedded in her skin. Two other passengers had died and many others, like her, were seriously injured.
Now, the question is who should pay.
Because the immigrants crammed into that van were temporary workers, as opposed to employees, they wouldn’t necessarily be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, even if they could overcome a “coming-and-going-rule” defense. Usually workers coming from or going to work aren’t considered to be acting in the course and scope of employment, and thus injuries sustained during commute aren’t compensable. However, there is some question as to whether the employer made special effort to have immigrant workers transported to its facilities via this particular driving service company. As it turns out, the driving service company was not licensed to work in the state of Indiana. According to the other lawsuits, the vans used by the company were bought in junk yards and dangerously modified to allow more seating inside. For example in this case, 23 people were riding in a van originally intended for 15. Further, the driver of the van was not properly licensed as a commercial driver authorized to transport people. The van’s tires were found to be rotted.
The driver, who tested positive for marijuana, was later arrested. Although there may be strong grounds for a civil case against him, it’s unlikely he has assets worth pursuing in court, particularly by 23 separate individuals.
Plaintiff in Sanon v. Ameriqual Group et al., filed in Gibson Superior Court in Indiana, alleges that while she was still in the hospital, she received a bill for medical services that she originally read as $10,500. She was reeling, wondering how she would ever pay it. Then she realized: The bill was actually for $105,000.
Adding insult to injury, the company that owns the factory for which she had been working sent her a “Get Well Soon” card containing a $50 gift card and encouraging her to “enjoy this gift basket, “which she never received. After she received her last paycheck for $71, the company told her it was no longer able to use her services. Without receipt of her $35-a-week paycheck, she was unable to pay her rent and forced out of her apartment. She’s now living in a homeless shelter.
The temporary agency for which plaintiff worked insisted it is not responsible to pay anything because the van company was a wholly separate company.
But according to the lawsuit, one of the key reasons the factory chose this particular temporary service agency over others was that it provided transportation of Haitian workers as part of its advertised charge to factories. Further, when the factor received inquiries about transportation, it reportedly only provided the name of one service: The company involved in this horrific accident. However, a factory spokesperson has said the firm was not aware of how employees got to and from work in the middle of the night.
Our Charlotte car accident lawyers recognize that in a case like this, there may be several possible defendants identified. The van company is the obvious first. Beyond that, the temporary agency may be liable if it can be shown the company had any sort of formal or informal contract with an unlicensed firm. And the factory where the workers were employed may face liability under the same premise. It will depend on whether plaintiff attorneys can show these companies owed a duty of care to plaintiffs in this regard that was breached, resulting in serious injury or death.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Sanon v. Ameriqual Group et al., Nov. 12, 2015, Gibson Superior Court
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