Spudzooka Hijinks – Who is Liable?

16 Apr

Imagine an issue statement when the facts include a spudzooka, gunpowder, video, and perhaps some beer.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reports that Colby Hines, a maintenance worker at an Atlanta-based railway service provider, is arguing that a serious head injury caused by his coworkers’ shenanigans at the rail yard was the fault of his employer:

The lawsuit brought against Railserve relies on a tort theory adopted by many states that says an employer can be held responsible for an action taken by an employee — one who is off the clock but still on company premises — that causes intentional harm to others.

The injury occurred back in 2010 when, after a few beers, the employee’s coworkers decided to test a “spudzooka”–a homemade potato cannon that, depending on design, uses a small explosive charge to propel a potato downrange. However, instead of being packed with potato, the device was full of metal bits. When the device fired it essentially acted as a pipe bomb. Hines caught flying shrapnel in the head while he recorded the event with his phone. He was off the clock at the time, but claims the potato cannon was constructed at the direction of a company supervisor.

In the 2012 lawsuit, the employee claimed that the employer failed to maintain a safe work space.  The trial court dismissed his case, but a state appeals court overruled the decision. 

A petition submitted by Railserve raises the question of whether “the Court of Appeals properly interpreted Restatement (Second) of Torts § 317 to enable a plaintiff to recover in Court against his employer as a consequence of injuries he sustains, in part, by virtue of his own tortious acts committed outside the scope of employment.” Attorneys for the company claim the decision could have far-reaching effects.




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