Missouri judge awards $6.27 million judgment in wrongful death lawsuit

sewer line.jpgA Ralls County, Missouri judge awarded the family of a man killed while working on a trench $6.27 million in the Missouri wrongful death case. Timothy Epperson worked for the City of Perry, Missouri, when he was working to clear a obstructed sewer line. The trench collapsed, and Epperson broke his neck and suffocated. He had a wife and 3 sons.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the city’s superintendent, Donald Lee Huff. The family of Epperson also has a Missouri workers’ compensation claim pending against the City of Perry.

In Missouri, a plaintiff can bring a direct lawsuit against a party for an injury arising out of his employment when they allege “something more” than the employer’s negligence in breaching its duty to provide a safe workplace. Here, there was no issue as to whether Epperson was working at his job when he sustained his injuries that led to his untimely death. However, in Missouri, if plaintiffs want to bring a direct lawsuit outside of the workers’ compensation arena, they must show that their employer committed an affirmative negligent act above and beyond simply being negligent in his duties to maintain a safe workplace.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the affirmative action was Huff’s direction to Epperson to continue working despite the dangerous conditions. This particular trench was built without certain safety precautions, such as walls to hold back caving-in dirt. Before trial, plaintiffs sought the policy limits from Huff’s insurer, $2 million, but Savers Property & Casualty Co. never responded. There is now a case pending against the insurance company for failure to investigate, settle, and defend the case.