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Worker Poisoning Spurs $4M Suit

Monday, May 18, 2015

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PORTLAND, OR—A home-improvement contractor and four other companies are facing a $4 million lawsuit in the death of a worker who was told to use a bucket as a toilet in the back of a work van.

Andrew C. Lane, 22, an employee of  Superior Home Maintenance, of Boring, OR, died from carbon-monoxide poisoning while using the bucket. A gas-powered pressure washer installed in the space was running at the time.

According to the wrongful-death lawsuit filed May 8 by his family, Lane suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, causing "frequent, urgent" need to use the toilet to defecate.

Oregon OSHA
Oregon OSHA via Oregon Live

Oregon's Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the death of Andrew C. Lane, who was reportedly told to use a bucket in the back of this work vehicle as a toilet.

His employer knew of his condition but, on several occasions, provided only a bucket for Lane and others to use as a toilet, the suit said.

The makeshift toilet was located in the enclosed van next to a permanently installed gas-powered power washer that leaked toxic gas, the lawsuit said.

The complaint also alleges product liability and negligence.

The Fatal Day

On May 13, 2014, Lane and co-workers were cleaning gutters at a home in Sandy, OR, according to the suit.

Superior offered its employees the bucket to use as a toilet, as the company had not arranged for workers to use toilets inside the home, the suit said.

The nearest public restroom was an eight-minute drive, and Lane did not have personal transportation that day, the suit said.

The power washer reportedly leaked carbon monoxide into the air while it was running, killing Lane while he was in the back of the van using the bucket, according to the suit.

His co-workers found him dead, reports said. Authorities said the truck had filled with toxic levels of carbon monoxide in less than a minute.

‘Demeaning, Debasing and Dehumanizing’

“[…]Ultimately, Superior’s unlawful employment practices led to Mr. Lane’s carbon monoxide poisoning and death,” the suit alleges.

SteveFrick
Homemasters of East Portland

Company owner Steve Frick has suggested that his employee's death may have been drug related.

Specifically, the complaint says, “Superior’s conduct was demeaning, debasing and dehumanizing.”

Moreover, the company failed to make reasonable accommodations for Lane's disability by requiring him to defecate in a bucket, the suit alleges.

Steve Frick, the owner of Superior Home Maintenance, has declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying insurance companies are handling the matter, according to the Associated Press.

OSHA Case

The death spurred an investigation by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which requires reasonable access to toilet facilities for most jobs.

The agency initially issued a $2,180 fine for three serious violations, including lack of proper toilet facilities and inappropriate placement of the pressure washer, according to OSHA’s database. The fine was reduced to $840 following an appeal.

Superior challenged the citations, arguing that methamphetamine found in Lane’s system “suggests” that he was not in the van to use the toilet, according to Oregon Live, citing the 155-page OSHA file.

toilet
Stilfehler / Wikimedia Commons

The victim suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, which causes frequent and unexpected defecation. Most job sites require reasonable access to toilet facilities.

Frick also argued that his company had not installed the power washer in the van.

OSHA documents were not immediately available for review Friday (May 15).

Additional Defendants

In addition to the victim’s employer, the suit names as defendants:

  • Landa Northwest, of Portland, the company that sold and installed the pressure washer in the van;
  • American Honda Motor Co., which manufactured the pressure-washer motor; and
  • Homemasters Franchise and NW Home Maintenance, affiliates of Superior based in Tigard.

Frick is the owner of Homemasters Portland East, according to the company's website.

   

Tagged categories: Business management; Business operations; Citations; Contractors; Fatalities; Home builders; Residential Construction

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