Federal Court Denies South Carolina City’s Motion to Dismiss Civil Rights Case Following Construction Worker’s Death in Unboxed Trench – Estate of Myers v. City of Columbia

Generally speaking in South Carolina, a person who is injured on the job (or the family of a person who is killed while in the course and scope of his or her employment) is restricted to recovery of the benefits available under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation law. This is true even if it was the employer’s negligence that led to the employer’s injury or death.

This is because of the so-called “exclusivity provision” of the workers’ compensation law, which provides that relief under such law shall be the sole remedy in the event of a workplace injury or death. The good news is that workers’ compensation cases tend to be less contentious than negligence lawsuits, but the bad news is that the amount recovered in a workers’ compensation action tends to be considerably less than could potentially have been recovered in a negligence case.

In South Carolina, there have been no exceptions to the exclusivity rule. Now there may be a chance at recovering under a different theory. Recently, a case was filed in the United States District Court of South Carolina, alleging that a deceased man’s civil rights had been violated after he died on the job. If this lawsuit succeeds, the plaintiff may be able to recover damages in addition to those available under the usual workers’ compensation laws.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Estate of Myers v. City of Columbia, the plaintiff was the personal representative and spouse of a man who worked as a construction worker for the defendant city. After the man died when a trench in which he was attempting to repair a damaged sewer line collapsed, the plaintiff filed suit against the city (and a city employee in his individual capacity), asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and South Carolina law.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined the city due to its failure to use a trench box, as was required under the law due to the depth of the excavation in which the man had been working.

Motion Before the Court

The city filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s § 1983 action against it, arguing that violations of OSHA regulations were not cognizable in a § 1983 case and that the plaintiff had, at best, asserted a claim for mere negligence rather than a claim for an alleged violation of substantive due process.

The District Court’s Ruling on the Motion

The court denied the city’s motion to dismiss, holding that, when resolving all inferences in favor of the plaintiff, the city’s conduct appeared to rise above “negligent conduct” and that the plaintiff had stated a claim for substantive due process.

In so holding, the court noted that the plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the city maintained a policy and practice that required the decedent and other employees to work in unboxed trenches some five to 15 times per month and harshly punished any employees who raised safety concerns. According to the court, if proven, these allegations could result in a finding that the city had violated the deceased man’s rights to life, liberty, and bodily integrity under the Due Process Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment.

For Advice About a South Carolina Work Injury

Although there are many limitations in workers’ compensation cases, there are a few cases in which an exception to the general rule of exclusivity may apply, and there is often considerable room for negotiation even in cases for which workers’ compensation is the only remedy. To talk to an experienced South Carolina work injury lawyer about your on-the-job accident, call the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie at (864) 582-5118. We offer a free, confidential case evaluation at either our Spartanburg or Greenville offices.

Related Blog Posts:

South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission Erred in Requiring Injured Worker to Establish Change of Condition by Objective Evidence – Russell v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

South Carolina Worker’s Family Was Not Entitled to Benefits for Deceased Worker’s Death Because No Exception to the Coming and Going Rule Applied – Wofford v. City of Spartanburg

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