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Saarinen v. Hall

Supreme Court of Alabama

September 1, 2017

Bobby Saarinen and Chris Williams
v.
Louis Hall

         Appeal from Franklin Circuit Court (CV-15-900091)

          SELLERS, Justice.

         This Court granted Bobby Saarinen and Chris Williams permission to appeal, pursuant to Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., from an interlocutory order of the Franklin Circuit Court denying their motion for a summary judgment in Louis Hall's personal-injury action against them.

         In May 2014, Hall was injured while operating a power saw at his place of employment, a plant owned by Williams Manufacturing, Inc. ("Williams Manufacturing"). Hall sued Williams Manufacturing, as well as his co-employees Saarinen and Williams, who were in 2014 and still are supervisory employees at Williams Manufacturing ("the co-employees"). The record indicates that Williams is the owner of Williams Manufacturing and that Saarinen is the plant manager.

         In his complaint, Hall asserted theories of negligence, "willfulness, " and "recklessness." Williams Manufacturing moved to dismiss the claims against it, asserting that Hall's exclusive remedy was under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. The trial court granted Williams Manufacturing's motion and dismissed Hall's claims against it. Subsequently, Hall amended his complaint to allege that the co-employees had "caused or allowed the removal of a guard from the saw made the basis of this suit, " had "fail[ed] to install a safety guard provided for the saw, " and had "fail[ed] to replace the unguarded saw with a new guarded saw."

         The co-employees filed a motion for a summary judgment. In support, they pointed to § 25-5-11, Ala. Code 1975. Section 25-5-11(a) provides, in relevant part:

"If the injury ... for which compensation is payable under Articles 3 or 4 of [the Workers' Compensation Act] was caused under circumstances also creating a legal liability for damages on the part of any party other than the employer, ... the employee ... may bring an action against the other party to recover damages for the injury ..., and the amount of the damages shall be ascertained and determined without regard to [the Workers' Compensation Act]. If a party, other than the employer, is ... an ... employee of the same employer, ... the injured employee ... may bring an action against ... [the] person ... only for willful conduct which results in or proximately causes the injury ...."

(Emphasis added.) See also Padgett v. Neptune Water Meter Co., 585 So.2d 900, 901 (Ala. 1991) ("Section 25-5-11(a) provides that actions may be maintained against those parties that may be jointly liable with the employer, provided that if the other party is a coemployee, then his actions, in order to give rise to liability, must be willful.").

         Section 25-5-11(b) provides: "If personal injury ... to any employee results from the willful conduct, as defined in subsection (c) herein, of any ... employee of the same employer ..., the employee shall have a cause of action against the person ...." As is relevant to this appeal, § 25-5-11(c)(2) defines "willful conduct" as follows:

"The willful and intentional removal from a machine of a safety guard or safety device provided by the manufacturer of the machine with knowledge that injury or death would likely or probably result from the removal; provided, however, that removal of a guard or device shall not be willful conduct unless the removal did, in fact, increase the danger in the use of the machine and was not done for the purpose of repair of the machine or was not part of an improvement or modification of the machine which rendered the safety device unnecessary or ineffective."

         In their summary-judgment motion, the co-employees established that, on the day he was injured, Hall was operating a power saw manufactured by Kalamazoo Industries, Inc. During depositions, the saw was described as a "straight cut-off saw." Although it is not entirely clear, photographs in the record appear to depict a saw with a round blade. Hall states in his appellee's brief that he used the saw to cut aluminum pipe, that "[t]he blade is above the table and the operator pulls it down by hand to cut the pipes on the table, " and that, "[a]fter the cut takes place, the blade is spring loaded to return to the 'up' position."

         The saw, which was purchased used by Williams Manufacturing, was manufactured with a guard covering a portion of the blade; Hall, however, did not think the guard was adequate. According to Hall's appellee's brief, "the guard on [the] saw did not fully cover the blade when the saw had finished cutting and sprung back to the 'up' position, " at which point "the blade would be exposed by about 1 ½ inches." At Hall's request, someone at Williams Manufacturing installed an additional guard. Hall testified as follows during deposition:

"Q. [The saw] had that orange guard on it that's depicted in these ...

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