Judgment against widow in late husband’s workplace injury suit upheld

The widow of a man who sued his employer after a fall at a construction site failed to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that a federal district court ruled for her late husband’s employer.

The appellate panel on Monday affirmed the Northern District of Indiana’s entry of summary judgment for defendants in Victoria Jeffords v. BP Corporation North America Inc., et al., 19-1533.

Victoria Jeffords’ husband Donald was a crane operator and employee of Central Rent-a-Crane who was working on an oil refinery construction project when he fell seven feet from a crane catwalk and was injured. He sued project owner BP Corp. and several of its contractors for negligence.

Donald later died of apparently unrelated causes, Judge David Hamilton wrote, and Victoria prosecuted the case as his estate administrator.

The district court held that none of the parties Jeffords sued owed him a duty of care, and the 7th Circuit affirmed. The panel turned away claims that parties named in the litigation had per se duties as general contractor or project manager; duties toward subcontractors’ employees; duties to comply and monitor compliance with safety standards; duties to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations; and claims of assumed duty and vicarious liability.

There is of course no contention here that (subcontractors) were BP’s employees,” Hamilton wrote. “Plaintiff’s claims are defeated by unambiguous contractual provisions. The district court correctly held as a matter of law that none of these defendants owed Jeffords a duty of care.”

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