Third Party Company Does Not Have to Pay Worker for Leg Amputated on the Job in Crenshaw County, Alabama

This is an important case related to workers’ compensation claims in Alabama. In factory settings, it is possible to have a claim not just against your employer, but any equipment that may be located in the plant. The question is how often is the equipment inspected and does it function as designed. These are largely fact based questions.

This case originated in Crenshaw County, Alabama, referred to as Ex parte Gudel AG. It is not unusual to add another party to workers’ compensation claim if it relates to faulty or dangerous equipment that does not perform as designed.

Rutledge sued his employer Smart Alabama, LLC an automotive parts manufacturer located in Crenshaw County. Rutledge was seeking to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Rutledge alleged he was injured when an overhead, roll-up door to a stamping press unit broke, falling on his leg, which eventually resulted in an amputation.

Rutledge added claims against Hyundai WIA (“Hyundai”) and Gudel AG (“Gudel”). The amended complaint alleged that Gudel, a corporation headquartered in Switzerland, designed and manufactured the equipment that was the subject of Robert’s lawsuit.

Gudel moved to dismiss the claims against it for lack of personal jurisdiction. Gudel alleged that it merely supplied a component system of the machine to Hyundai, which was designed and manufactured in Switzerland before being sold to Hyundai, a Korean entity.

The motion included affidavit testimony that Gudel had not conducted any systematic or continuous activities in Alabama, was not licensed to do business here, and therefore the court lacked general jurisdiction. The trial court denied the motion and Gudel petitioned for a writ of mandamus. Writ of mandamus issued. The Court noted that Robert appeared to concede, because the accident giving rise to the complaint clearly did not arise from continuous and systematic general business contacts by Gudel with Alabama.

Rutledge argued that the allegations of his complaint supported a “colorable claim of jurisdiction” against Gudel. The Court disagreed, pointing out that Gudel’s affidavit testimony established that it did not design, build, or manufacture the press machine or any part that was related to the overhead roll-up doors. Robert failed to dispute Gudel’s contention or to substantiate the jurisdictional allegations in the complaint with his own evidentiary submissions establishing jurisdiction. The Court also rejected Robert’s argument that dismissal was premature.

Because Gudel’s evidence disproved the factual allegations that would have established specific jurisdiction and constituted a prima facie showing that no specific jurisdiction existed, Robert was required to substantiate his jurisdictional allegations with affidavits or other competent evidence, which he indisputably failed to do. The claims against Gudel were therefore due to be dismissed based on a lack of personal jurisdiction over it.

The lesson or take away from this case is to get as much as evidence in the form of testimony from co-workers as possible after an injury. It is important to get records related to how often equipment is inspected and functions according to standards and specifications. It is still necessary to file a first report of injury and seek medical treatment as needed.

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