Employers that take OSHA and state agency safety violations seriously probably won’t face additional legal troubles outside the workers’ compensation system if an employee is later hurt or killed.
Ignore those reports, and employees can sue for unlimited damages if they can convince the court that the employer “intentionally engages in misconduct knowing it is substantially certain to cause serious injury or death to employees, and an employee is injured or killed by that misconduct.”
Recent case: Roger Edwards died at work when he took a break behind the annealing ovens where he had been working. The ovens leaked carbon monoxide. OSHA then cited the company. But there was no evidence the company knew about the leak. The court said Edwards’ widow was limited to a workers’ compensation claim. She couldn’t sue the company directly for additional damages. (Edwards v. GE Lighting, No. 05-CVS-1465, North Carolina Court of Appeals, 2008)