Connie Hay still remembers the words the doctors used when they tried to explain her son’s work-related death. “We don’t know where to begin. We don’t know. He has inhaled something toxic that has completely scorched his lungs.” Her son, 20-year-old Mason Spurlin, had been washing out a tanker at J&M Tank Lines in Sylacauga, Alabama, where he was employed in 2019 when he lost consciousness and asphyxiated. He was rushed to Coosa Valley Medical Center, then transferred to UAB where he was later pronounced dead from his work-related injury. Hay’s world came crashing down.
When Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) officials investigated the incident and inspected J&M Tank Lines where the fatality had occurred, the agency slapped the company with five serious violations related to permit-required confined spaces. Devastated, Hay sought the council of Beasley Allen attorney Kendall Dunson who had to break the news to Hay that despite the serious violations at J&M Tank Lines that contributed to her son’s untimely death, Alabama’s Workers Compensation Law gives immunity to employers.
The law states that “If the deceased employee at the time of his or her death has no dependents as herein defined, then within 60 days of his or her death, the employer shall pay a one-time lump sum payment of seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500) to the deceased worker’s estate.”
With no wife or children, Spurlin’s life is only worth $7,500 to his negligent employer. His family is fighting to change worker’s compensation laws, to increase benefits to families of workers killed on the job in Alabama, or at the very least, the ability to hold an employer responsible. “To be able to get justice, yeah, the law has to change,” Hays told CBS42 News. “If it’s a federal OSHA regulation, you should be able to be held liable for it.”
While no amount of money will bring Spurlin back, changing laws to allow more significant monetary damages would serve to motivate employers to prioritize employee safety, so that no other families have to suffer tragic losses like this, Hay’s attorney Dunson said. “If you don’t want to change the framework of allowing a private action against an employer, well then increase the benefits,” Dunson told CBS42 reporter Michael Clark.
Workplace injury lawyers
Beasley Allen handles a variety of cases related to workplace safety. While all workers should be guaranteed a safe working environment, all too often we handle cases of serious injuries and deaths resulting from a hazardous work environment. Many times our investigation reveals defective or dangerous machinery was involved, or employers failed to provide adequate protections or ignored safety regulations. If you need more information, contact Kendall Dunson or Evan Allen, lawyers in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section who handle workplace litigation for our firm.