Suit says company liable after employee sticks arm in vacuum

By David Yates | Oct 22, 2007

Pneumatic Industrial Services

When a piece of coal was sucked up and lodged in an industrial vacuum, Ricardo Garcia chased after it, sticking his arm in the hose without first turning off the power.

Trapped and in pain, Garcia began yelling for help, but the vacuum's operator, a Pneumatic Industrial Services employee, allowed "a substantial amount of time" to pass before flipping the off switch.

Garcia filed a personal injury lawsuit against Pneumatic with the Jefferson County District Court on Oct. 17, claiming the company owed him a duty to warn him of the inherent dangers of its products.

Pneumatic Industrial Services is a Southeast Texas company that owns and operates a fleet of liquid and dry vacuum trucks and other industrial services used by several of the area's petrochemical facilities.

According to the plaintiff's original petition, on May 25, 2007, Garcia was at the Beaumont Exxon Mobil Plant when his injury occurred.

"Garcia was using a vacuum tube (owned and operated by Pneumatic) to vacuum pieces of coal," the suit said. "While working, a piece of coal became lodged inside the vacuum tube. As Garcia attempted to dislodge the coal from the tube, his arm was sucked up into the vacuum tube. Despite yelling for help, the operator did not cut off the suction on the vacuum tube until a substantial amount of time passed. As a result of this incident, Garcia suffered numerous injuries to his arm, requiring medical care and treatment."

The suit says Pneumatic owed Garcia several duties, including a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid injury to others; a duty to exercise reasonable care in warning users of dangers inherent in the products and/or services they are providing; a duty to provide reasonably safe equipment and/or services; and a duty to select, supervise, and train its employees.

"At all times relevant to this matter, the operator of the vacuum hose was acting in the course and scope of his employment as an employee of (Defendant)," the suit said. "As such, Defendant is thereby liable for his or her acts and/or omissions under the theory of respondeat superior, as that doctrine is recognized and defined under the laws of the State of Texas."

"Respondeat superior" is Latin for "let the master answer," and is a doctrine that makes an employer responsible for damages and injuries caused by an employee.

Garcia is suing for past and future medical care expenses; past and future lost earnings and/or loss of earning capacity; past and future physical pain and mental anguish; past and future disfigurement; and past and future physical impairment.

Garcia is demanding a trial by jury and is represented by Tommy Hastings of the Hastings Law Firm.

Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th Judicial District, will preside over the case.

Case No. D180-536

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