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Box factory failed to follow its safety program, family claimed

Amount:

$1,600,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Texas

Venue:

Dallas County

Court:

Dallas County District Court, 101st

Injury Type(s):

head; other-death; other-crush injury

Case Type:

Wrongful Death; Gross Negligence; Workplace – Workplace Safety; Worker/Workplace Negligence – Negligent Training

Case Name:

Priscilla Ruiz individually and as next friend of James Estrella Jr. v. D & S Container, Inc. d/b/a Budget Box and Staff Force, Inc.,
No. DC-16-13854

Date:

March 28, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Priscilla Ruiz , 

James Estrella Sr. (Male, 31 Years), 

James Estrella, Jr.

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Sadat Montgomery;
Montgomery Law;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Priscilla Ruiz, James Estrella, Jr.

Plaintiff Expert(s):

David David; Jr., CSP; Occupational Health & Safety; Lucas,
TX called by:
Sadat Montgomery

Defendant(s):

Staff Force Inc., 

D&S Container Inc., 

Continental Casualty, 

Valley Forge Insurance Co.

Defense Attorney(s):

David Pacione;
Law Offices of Brian J. Judis;
Dallas,
TX,
for
D&S Container Inc., Continental Casualty, Valley Forge Insurance Co. ■ Kevin E. Oliver;
Law Offices of Brian J. Judis;
Dallas,
TX,
for
D&S Container Inc., Continental Casualty, Valley Forge Insurance Co. ■ Jay M. Wallace;
Bell Nunnally & Martin LLP;
Dallas,
TX,
for
Staff Force Inc.

Insurer(s):

CNA for D&S Container

Facts:

On June 29, 2016, plaintiffs’ decedent James Estrella, 31, a general laborer at a corrugated box manufacturing facility in Dallas that’s owned by D&S Container Inc., was cleaning scrap material out of a die-cutter machine. The die-cutter operator was unaware of Estrella’s presence and started to use the machine. Estrella’s upper body was pulled inside, and his head was crushed. Staff Force Inc. is a staffing agency that provided Estrella to D&S Container. Estrella was survived by his common-law wife, plaintiff Priscilla Ruiz, a homemaker, and their son, plaintiff James Estrella Jr., age 5. Ruiz, for herself and her son, sued D&S Container, operating as Budget Box, for gross negligence. She sued Staff Force for negligence, and they settled for an undisclosed amount several months before trial. D&S was a subscriber to workers’ compensation and had liability insurance through CNA. It also had insurance policies with CNA affiliates Valley Forge Insurance Co. and Continental Casualty. Ruiz sued Valley Forge and Continental Casualty, but nonsuited them after discovery showed that those companies’ insurance policies were not applicable to this incident. The case went to trial against D&S only. The plaintiffs’ occupational safety and health expert testified that the company failed to follow the safety program that it had implemented in 2013, which required in part that machines be locked out and tagged out before cleaning, and that all managers and supervisors be responsible for ensuring and training to ensure a safe workplace. Plaintiffs’ counsel noted that he company’s safety manager had left the company shortly after drafting the safety program and was never replaced. The manager in charge of the facility admitted that the company never consistently followed the program, plaintiffs’ counsel noted. The expert also testified that the machines at the facility had inadequate guarding, or procedures and devices to prevent injury. Several employees testified that helpers, such as Estrella, were expected to reach into the machines to clean out the scrap on a regular basis and without the machines being locked out and tagged out. The defense argued that higher-ups in the company were unaware that the safety program was not being followed. They testified that they thought the machines were cleaned only when locked out and tagged out, and that they did not know helpers were doing the cleaning. However, they gave inconsistent testimony about which non-helper employees were supposed to be doing the cleaning. The defense moved for a directed verdict, which was denied. The defense brought in an appellate lawyer, Michelle Robberson, for the charge conference.

Injury:

Estrella sustained a crush injury to the head and died at the scene. Ruiz and her son sought unspecified punitive damages, allocated between them however the jury thought was fair. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the company had made so many false and inconsistent statements that it must be trying to “sweep the truth under the rug.” If the jury did not punish the defendant, it was only a matter of time before “another James Estrella” would be killed, counsel argued. Plaintiff’s counsel questioned the credibility of the testimony of one of D&S owners that the company was worth only $2.5 million.

Result:

The jury found gross negligence by D&S and awarded $1.6 million in punitive damages, apportioning 65 percent to Ruiz and 35 percent to her son.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Staci Williams

Trial Length:

4
 days

Trial Deliberations:

2
 hours

Jury Vote:

12-0

Jury Composition:

3 male/ 9 female

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. D&S Container’s counsel declined to contribute, and the remaining defendants’ counsel were not asked to contribute.