Philip Piletic – Some lawsuits filed against businesses are frivolous ones, and some are just downright ridiculous, like the case of Overton v. Anheuser-Busch. In that case, Richard Overton filed suit against the beer company for false advertising. The bikini-clad beauties pictured in the television commercials failed to materialize in his living room even after he’d drunk a full six-pack of their product, so he sued.
While cases like this are usually dismissed, courts take other types of lawsuits filed against businesses very seriously. Some of the most common reasons employees file lawsuits against their employers are discrimination, harassment, workplace injuries, and wrongful termination.
Workplace discrimination tops the list in terms of the number of lawsuits filed. The Australian court system has responded by increasing the amount of damages that victims of discrimination are able to collect.
In the past, most awards ranged between $12,000 and $20,000. However, in the case of Sagona v R & C Piccoli, in which it was found that a company discriminated against a woman based on gender, pregnancy and family responsibilities, the Federal Circuit Court awarded the victim $235,000.
Sexual & Bullying Harassment
Harassment can be of a sexual nature, bullying or workplace violence is also included in the legal definition. In the case of Kate Mathews v Winslow Constructors, the Supreme Court of Victoria recently awarded $1.3 million dollars in compensation as the result of severe workplace harassment.
Damages were calculated based on future economic loss and pain and suffering. The court found that the victim suffered from such serious psychiatric illness as the result of the harassment that she would likely never be able to work again.
Some employers face lawsuits due to workplace injuries. Although most employers carry Worker’s Compensation insurance, the fact is that injured employees also have the right to file a separate civil suit against a company. If a court finds that an employee is injured as the result of an employer’s intentional actions or negligence, the consequences can be severe.
In the case of West Star Transportation Inc. v. Charles Robison et al, a Texas appellate court recently affirmed a $5.3 million liability judgment against an employer.
According to the court ruling, Mr. Robinson suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of “performing a task that was unusually precarious and not of the same character of work that he customarily performed, and he was doing so without any special supervision or safety equipment…In fact, West Star did not even own the equipment necessary to safely perform the task at hand, choosing instead to borrow a forklift from another business in order to have a means of raising a 150-pound tarpaulin to the top of a load reaching (13) feet in height.”
This ruling demonstrates the vital importance of employers providing proper equipment that meets or exceeds workplace safety standards.
While it’s true that technology has helped make most workplaces safer, it’s also true that in 2012, there were still 4,383 workplace fatalities in the U.S. alone. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) 1789 of them were attributed to transportation causes. 712 of them were due to contact with objects or equipment. In 2014, rather than decreasing, the number of U.S. workplace fatalities increased to 4,821.
OSHA estimates that 25.5 of every 10,000 workers suffer a workplace injury as the result of contact with objects or equipment. 12.4 of every 10,000 workers suffer an injury by overexerting themselves while lifting or lowering something. Proper training is just as important as proper equipment.
The courts must determine which lawsuits have merit and which are frivolous. Last year, 28 workers in 19 cities filed complaints against McDonald’s for unsafe working conditions.
Due to out-of-court settlements and non-disclosure agreements, the public never learns the outcome of many lawsuits.
Those who are injured on the job and must undergo costly physical therapy and other medical treatments know all too well that despite the attempted abuse of the system by a few, pain and suffering are very real. Financial compensation is little comfort to the families of those who are permanently injured, or even killed, on the job due to unsafe working conditions. Only increased awareness can reduce the number of injuries, deaths—and lawsuits.