A jury in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama, awarded plaintiff Leon Battle $1.9 million for retaliatory discharge and for an amputation injury he suffered on the job – he was fired for hiring a lawyer. Mr. Battle was represented by Beasley Allen lawyers Larry Golston, Leon Hampton, Jr., Kendall Dunson and Warner Hornsby, along with Montgomery lawyer Tamika Miller.
In April 2014, Mr. Battle lost four fingers on his left hand while working to repair a hydraulic hose on a chicken dumper machine at Koch Foods in Montgomery when the machine suddenly started operating when it should have been shut down. After his injury, the plant safety manager told Mr. Battle he could come back to work because Koch Foods knew Battle didn’t do anything wrong, but if he hired a lawyer, he would be fired – an obvious attempt to cover up the company’s wrongdoing. Mr. Battle hired a lawyer and was subsequently fired.
“Mr. Battle, and every employee, should expect their employer to take the proper actions and follow the procedures designed to keep them safe on the job,” Golston said. “Instead, Mr. Battle’s employer deliberately created a situation that put workers in danger, and tragically and needlessly resulted in his permanent injury. Then, to make matters worse, his employer tried to intimidate him into forfeiting his right to a jury trial by threatening to fire him if he hired a lawyer, and then carrying through with that threat.”
During the trial, the jury learned that the safety gate surrounding the machine was tampered with so that it could not operate as designed. The gate should have cut power to the machine when it was opened by a worker entering the area near the machine. However, Koch instructed its workers to insert a metal pole into the gate that allowed the machine to continue operating while the gate was open, placing Mr. Battle in danger and resulting in the loss of his fingers.
The verdict included $851,400 in compensatory damages and $1.05 million in punitive damages.