Lawsuit alleges man's death caused by lack of maintenance staff

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Dec. 26, 2008, 10:22am

MARSHALL � Attempting to fix an industrial dryer used in the process of pottery manufacturing, supervisor Frederick Beham climbed into the machine and attempted to make repairs when it restarted, crushing him to death.

LaTonya Robinson, individually and on behalf of the estate of Frederick Beham and as next friend of Freddrion Beham, Frederick Lee Beham, and unborn baby Beham, Carmeka Jefferson as next friend of Ceirra Jefferson Beham, and Latisha Broadnax as next friend of Jalen White filed a wrongful death personal injury lawsuit against Dermona USA doing business as Marshall Pottery on Dec. 23 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

According to the lawsuit, Marshall Pottery had a long-standing policy of requiring all employees to work on any equipment which was in a down condition and to do whatever it took to return the equipment to a running condition.

The dryer was in a down condition because the trays on the conveyor belt that bring pottery into the kiln were hung and not rolling. The plaintiffs state the was a common occurrence and that employees and even supervisors such as Frederick Beham were required to climb into the dryer and knock the trays loose, sometimes using a long metal hook.

Even though required to climb into an industrial machine, the plaintiffs argue there was not a reliable "lock out tag out" mechanism to prevent the machine from being turned back on while employee was inside.

To do the necessary repairs, employees would manually turn the machine off, and then climb into the machine underneath the rollers. The plaintiffs state that there was an entire area of rollers in which an employee could be underneath but not be seen by other employees, raising the risk of others restarting machine. Further, the plaintiffs argue that the machine had previously and independently restarted causing crush injuries to other employees.

The plaintiffs allege that the company failed to do appropriate preventive maintenance on the dryer including on its trays and rollers, failed to properly staff its maintenance department, and failed to provide appropriate instructions, warning or training on the operation of the machine.

The plaintiffs believe Fredrick Beham's death could have been prevented by the appropriate staffing of maintenance workers, routinely inspecting and replacing worn parts, provide operation and maintenance training, provide safety training, provide "lock out tag out" training, enforce a "lock out tag out" procedure, having safety guards around the moving parts as required by OSHA regulations, and providing an alternative means of knocking trays loose.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages for Beham's pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and burial expenses. The plaintiffs are also seeking damages for loss of companionship and society, loss of household services, anguish, grief, emotional pain and suffering, and pecuniary losses.

Dallas attorney Tom Carse of the Carse Law firm and McKinney attorney Maria Wormington of the Wormington Law Group are representing the plaintiffs.

Jury trial requested.

U.S. District Judge T. John Ward will preside over the litigation.

Case No 2:08cv477

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