West Virginia Supreme Court: Drill Worker Caused Own Accident, Not Entitled to Money Damages – Ball v. A.L.L. Construction

A person who is injured on the job in West Virginia is generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits covering medical costs and some missed wages, depending on the nature of the accident and the injuries sustained. In some cases, the worker can also sue his or her employer for additional damages for “deliberate intent,” or purposely exposing the worker to a condition that the employer knew was particularly dangerous. The worker may also be able to seek damages from a property owner, if the owner failed to adequately warn the worker about hazards on the property that the owner knew about or should have been aware of. As a recent state Supreme Court ruling shows, however, a worker who causes his own accident isn’t likely to have much of a claim.

safety_helmetMr. Ball began working as a drilling rig operator in 2006, running a drill mounted on a crawler chassis to perform excavation work for windmill pads in Grant County. He was doing exploratory drilling on behalf of Allegheny Investments at a site owned by OAS Enterprises in 2008 when he was involved in an accident. A foreman drove Ball along the proposed drill path before the work began, and Ball worked on the path for several hours without incident. At some point, he reached a hill and was unsure whether to continue or to turn back. Ball opted to keep going – moving off the designated drill path – and the drill rig ultimately steered off an embankment and crashed on its side.

Ball incurred injuries to his face and his head during the accident. He sued A.L.L. Construction and Allegheny Investments, alleging that they were his joint employer. Ball argued that the companies should be liable beyond workers’ compensation benefits because they subjected him to an unsafe work condition knowing that it was likely to cause him injury. Ball also sued OAS Enterprises, alleging that the company was also liable for the unsafe conditions on the property as owner of the site. A circuit court granted summary judgment to the companies, finding that Ball failed to show that the area where the accident took place was particularly hazardous or that A.L.L. and Allegheny had “actual knowledge” of any hazard on the property.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court said it was Ball – not a dangerous condition on the property – who caused the accident by veering off of the drill path that had been set by his employers. “As the circuit court correctly found, [Ball], on his own accord, drove his rig off the drill path, down an embankment, and rolled it over,” the Court said. “The record fails to establish any condition — open, obvious, or otherwise — on the drill path that constituted a hazard to [Ball].” As a result, the Court said summary judgement for the companies was appropriate.

It’s important to note here that Ball is likely still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The Court’s ruling is limited to his additional claims against the companies.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on the job, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia construction accident lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Workplace Accidents, Employer Liability and ‘Deliberate Intent’ – Cunningham v. Felman Production

High Court Sides with West Virginia Worker in Toxic Exposure Case – Moore v. K-Mart

West Virginia Workers’ Compensation and Preexisting Conditions – Steyer v. Alliance Coal