An employee who witnessed the death of his co-worker cannot bring a claim for emotional distress against his employer, an appellate court held Thursday.
In Martinez v. Chevron Mining Inc., a three-judge panel of the New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s decision that the worker’s claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers Compensation Act.
Virgil Martinez and his wife filed a lawsuit against his employer, Chevron Mining, alleging that the company’s wrongful actions caused Mr. Martinez to witness the “protracted and painful death” of his co-worker, which led to his emotional distress and his wife’s loss of consortium. On May 16, 2013, while Mr. Martinez and others were working at a mine owned by Chevron, he was operating an electric locomotive pulling ore-loaded railway cars, when a malfunction occurred and his co-worker became pinned between two cars. Mr. Martinez unsuccessfully tried to render first aid and the co-worker died.
Chevron filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Martinez’s claims were barred by the Act. A district court dismissed their claims and he and his wife appealed.
The appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision. Mr. Martinez argued that the employer placed him and his co-worker in a dangerous position and therefore his claims should be able to proceed as an exception to the Act’s exclusivity provision. The appellate court, however disagreed, holding that Mr. Martinez failed to identify that his employer knew or should have known of “a specific dangerous circumstance” in which the co-worker was required to perform a task that would likely result in his injury or death.
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