Workplace - Workplace Safety; Negligent Supervision
Worker/Workplace Negligence - Negligent Training
Delivery driver allegedly injured back lifting cow carcasses
Julian Guzman v. Amigos Meat Distributors, L.P., No. 2013-25098
Harris County District Court, 295th, TX
September 25, 2015
Brian H. Crockett; Crockett Law P.C.; Houston TX for Julian Guzman
Obed DeLaCruz; Markle DeLaCruz LLP; Houston, TX for Amigos Meat Distributors L.P.
On May 6, 2011, plaintiff Julian Guzman, 27, was working as a delivery driver for Amigos Meat Distributors L.P., Houston. The next day, he went to a chiropractor and told him he had hurt his back on the job. Amigos was a nonsubscriber to workers' compensation.
Guzman sued Amigos for negligence, alleging that his employer failed to provide a safe workplace or adequate equipment or personnel for the job, and that he sustained an on- the-job injury.
According to Guzman, on May 6 his supervisor ordered him to lift and transport three one-quarter cow carcasses by himself, while the supervisor stood by and watched. Guzman said he carried two of them to pallets outside the trailer and returned for the third carcass. After lifting it, he said, he felt pain in his lower back. He claimed that he was able to walk to the end of the trailer, but that his legs gave out, and he dropped the carcass a few feet from the manager. He claimed that he told the supervisor that he hurt his back, but that the supervisor said he had no other drivers, and Guzman would have to make his deliveries regardless of his injury. Guzman made his deliveries and went home.
Guzman called a workplace safety expert, who testified that material handling is one of the top three causes of work-related injuries; that Amigos should have provided some form of material-handling equipment rather than requiring employees to lift and transport carcasses by hand; and that providing something as simple as a cart would have prevented Guzman's injury.
The defense denied that any incident occurred. The defense argued that Guzman waited three to four days before reporting it; that May 6 was a Friday, and cow carcasses are not delivered or received on Fridays; that, if the incident did happen, Guzman violated Amigos' unwritten safety policy by lifting the carcasses by himself; and that a quarter cow carcass weighed 100 to 120 pounds, not 150 to 175 pounds as Guzman claimed.
Amigos further claimed that, in August 2011, it received a call from a former employee saying that Guzman was faking his injury. The company subsequently stopped paying for Guzman's medical care and paying his wages.
Guzman's supervisor testified that he could not remember what, if anything, he told Guzman to do on May 6.
Guzman claimed a herniated disc at L4-5.
On May 7, he said, he was in extreme pain, and he went to a chiropractor, who took him off work and restricted his activities. Guzman said he gave his supervisor the note on Monday, May 9.
After an MRI, he was referred to a medical doctor and underwent three years of conservative care, including physical therapy, hydrocodone, Lyrica, morphine, muscle relaxers and two epidural steroid injections. During that time, he went to the emergency room about three times complaining of pain. He eventually underwent a discectomy and fusion at L4-5.
For three years after the incident, he did not work. He also testified that the injury affected his ability to play with his children and go running, and that he was unable to drive for a time. After the surgery, he found a new job. He did not claim lost earnings or lost earning capacity.
At the time of the incident, Guzman had worked for his employer for three years. His medical records indicated no back complaints before the date of the incident.
His paid or incurred medical bills were $287,809.94. He also claimed past and future physical pain and mental anguish and physical impairment. Plaintiff's counsel told the jury that Guzman's damages were at least $3 million.
The defense contended that the surgery was necessitated by a pre-existing condition and not a lifting injury.