Thu 5th Jan | 2023

Judge Denies Defendant’s Motion Seeking Final Summary Judgment After Defective Oven Explodes Leaving Worker Permanently Injured

Appellate Litigation In the News Personal Injury Product liability BY

Miami-Dade County, Fla., – January 6, 2023 – Following a devastating explosion of a commercial oven that left a 40-year-old worker permanently injured and fighting for his life, a Miami-Dade Judge Denied the Defendant’s Motion for Final Summary Judgment, where the Defendant asserted that the victim had elected his remedy by accepting and filing for workers’ compensation benefits. The trial judge believed the record contained factual issues, and refused to throw our Client’s civil case out.

Our Client was working at a Florida Specialty Coffee Company. At the time of the explosion, he was unpacking a crate, unrelated to use of the dryer oven, when the oven used to dry coffee beans exploded.

As a result of the devastating blast, our Client sustained life-threatening injuries including multiple bone fractures, lacerations to his liver, a right pneumothorax, a pneumomediastinum, acute blood loss, and a concussion.

Since the explosion, our Client has required extensive medical care, spending more than four months in the hospital, undergoing nineteen surgeries to date, and facing more surgical procedures in his future. Sadly, he will likely lose his right lower leg at some point in the future.

Devastated and desperate for answers, our client retained attorneys Shana P. Nogues and Don Fountain to investigate the incident and potential avenues of recovery. During the investigation, the team discovered the machine itself was defective, because the manufacturer had failed to equip it with the proper seal that would have prevented gasses from leaking. However, the Chinese manufacturer of the product stopped participating in the litigation, which resulted in a default against it.

The lawsuit alleged that the Defendant Coffee Company participated in the design of the defective commercial oven, and also alleged that the Defendant acted negligently. Our Client, who was performing work at the time of the explosion but was technically an independent contractor, began receiving workers’ compensation benefits immediately after the explosion.

Because of the legal minefield that left our Client with limited avenues of recovery, Ms. Nogues and Mr. Fountain, along with our Firm’s Board Certified appellate lawyer, Julie H. Littky-Rubin, worked tirelessly to hash out a plan to carefully thread the legal needle. This involved the delicate balancing of issues between the Defendant “employer’s” responsibility, and the hurdles of workers’ compensation immunity, exacerbated by the fact that our Client had filed nine different petitions for benefits.

The more they researched the law, the more they saw that their Client’s case presented an unique issue of first impression, as the trial court found.

During the litigation, Ms. Nogues had uncovered evidence showing that while our Client lay unconscious in a hospital bed immediately after the accident, the Defendant worked behind the scenes to “make” him an “employee,” notwithstanding that he was technically a W-9 worker when the explosion occurred. The Defendant then attempted to use the payment and the Client’s acceptance of the workers’ compensation benefits as a shield from civil liability. 

Ultimately, the combination of factual issues about our Client’s employment status, along with questions of whether he “consciously intended” to elect workers’ compensation as his remedy, helped Ms. Littky-Rubin to convince the trial judge to deny the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and to allow our Client to pursue his civil case to a jury.

In the face of Florida’s new summary judgment standard, this important order may help other injured victims who find their employment status in the gray area between “employee” and “independent contractor,” to pursue their civil remedy.

“Our Firm will continue to take on cases that others shy away from due to their complexity, and will always leave no potential factual or legal stone unturned,” said Shana P. Nogues. 

Access the Order Here

About Clark Fountain

Based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Littky-Rubin & Whitman has been representing clients in all areas of personal injury litigation, including automobile and trucking crashes, product liability, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and negligent security law for nearly four decades.

The prestigious plaintiff personal injury firm has a longstanding history of successfully litigating complex cases and its phenomenal track record of obtaining record-setting verdicts and settlements for their injured clients in Florida and throughout the United States.