Company owed no duty to woman injured by employee after work

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday that a northwest Indiana steel producer did not owe a duty to a woman injured in a car accident caused by an employee as he drove home from his shift.  

Dana Faught, a longtime United States Steel Corp. employee, assumes he fell asleep at the wheel when the car he drove crossed the center line and struck Miriam Rodriguez’s vehicle at 6 a.m. Jan. 21, 2011. She suffered severe, permanent injuries, which led to a lawsuit by Alfredo Rodriguez, who is her permanent guardian.

Faught said he had about four ½ hours of sleep the night before the accident and had worked approximately 11 hours. Those hours were typical for him, as his supervisor allowed him to make his own hours. He typically worked nights in order to get more work done.

The lawsuit claimed that U.S. Steel acted negligently when it allowed Faught to drive his car on his commute after it allowed him to work long and excessive hours on consecutive days. Alfredo Rodriguez believes his case is similar to a dram shop case in which an employer was found to owe a duty of reasonable care to a third-party motorist injured by the employer’s intoxicated employee after a holiday party.

The trial court granted U.S. Steel’s motion for summary judgment and the COA affirmed in Alfredo D. Rodriguez, as Permanent Guardian of the Person and Estate of Miriam Rodriguez, and Alfredo D. Rodriguez, Individually v. United States Steel Corporation, 45A04-1407-CT-350.

After considering each of the three factors in Webb v. Jarvis, the judges held U.S. Steel did not owe Miriam Rodriguez a duty of reasonable care.

“While, in general terms, her injury was reasonably foreseeable, she had no relationship with U.S. Steel, and public policy strongly counsels against the imposition of a duty on employers to monitor worker fatigue. In sum, we do not believe reasonable persons would recognize such a duty and agree that it exists,” Judge Edward Najam wrote.

He said it should be up to employers or the Legislature to determine number of hours an employee is allowed to work. Imposing such a duty on the courts would likely lead to ad hoc, industry-specific decisions that set bright-line caps on the number of hours an employee is allowed to work, he wrote.

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