Beasley Allen lawyer Kendall Dunson has sued MDLG, Inc., doing business as Phenix Lumber Co., after the defendant’s negligence led to the death of Brandon Lee VanDyke who was killed when he was pulled into the wood chipper while attempting to fix the malfunctioning equipment in May.
“The defendant is a repeat offender with safety violations that risked the safety of employees countless times before Mr. VanDyke’s tragic death,” Dunson said. “Mr. VanDyke was at least the second fatal victim at the defendant’s mill in the last decade and despite numerous citations and hefty fines by federal regulators, Phenix Lumber continues putting workers at risk. Mr. VanDyke’s family has enlisted our firm to help them hold Phenix Lumber accountable.”
In the early morning hours of May 28, Phenix Lumber’s auger or wood chipper set off an alarm indicating it had become jammed. VanDyke became entangled in the machine when he was working to get the chipper operational. When local authorities were called to the scene, they only found partial remains of VanDyke’s body. Phenix City inspectors reportedly found more than 100 safety violations while conducting an initial investigation later the morning of VanDyke’s death. The mill has been cited on numerous occasions dating back to at least 2007.
From 2007 to 2010, the mill was cited 77 times for serious health and safety violations. In March 2010, an employee was killed and one was injured as a result of safety violations. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was in the process of wrapping up an ongoing investigation of the defendant’s previous safety violations when the incidents occurred. Later that year it was fined $439,400 and OSHA issued two failure-to-abate, 11 repeat, 21 serious and 10 other-than-serious safety and health citations for other violations.
Another incident in early 2011 led to another employee suffering a partial amputation while clearing a piece of machinery that had not been locked out. Another employee had just suffered a severe hand injury while working on unguarded machinery. While OSHA inspectors were investigating the partial amputation injury, a third employee suffered a severe hand injury while working on unguarded machinery. At the conclusion of the investigation of the 2011 incidents, OSHA fined the saw mill and its owner, John M. Dudley, $1.9 million for “willful disregard for employee safety.” The federal regulators determined that the company repeatedly failed to protect its workers from death and serious injury.
The lawsuit also seeks to hold the machine’s manufacturer responsible for the defective design that “created an unreasonable risk of injury and death to the intended users.”
The case was filed in the Circuit Court of Russell County, Alabama, case number 57-CV-2020-900171.00.