• Manufacturing: Supervisors' Personal Liability
  • April 5, 2007 | Author: Thomas L. Oliver
  • Law Firm: Carr Allison - Birmingham Office
  • Manufacturers are facing a difficult litigation challenge regarding the personal liability of supervisors and managers in relation to the employees they oversee. The issue arises in workplace injury lawsuits against individual supervisors where employees allege that they were injured on the job as the result of the supervisor’s willful action. Courts in  plaintiff-friendly venues increasingly adhere to the view that if a manufacturing supervisor orders the removal of a safety guard on a production machine, or fails to order a safety guard replaced or repaired, the supervisor is personally guilty of willful conduct causing the injury.

     

    Even if the manufacturer is not sued directly, a supervisor’s personal legal liability raises a number of strategic issues for in-house counsel. These include whether the manufacturer’s general liability policy covers damage awards against supervisors and whether the company or its insurer will pay for a supervisor’s defense counsel or any monetary  settlement. Another concern is whether a supervisor who is found guilty will in turn sue the company, alleging that it provided improper training or that it ordered the actions taken in regard to safety devices.

     

    Manufacturers have not responded uniformly to this litigation threat. Some of the largest cover all costs and damage awards, while small manufacturers may cover nothing. Most companies agree to provide supervisors with defense counsel but will not pay damage awards or settlements. As the trial bar pursues additional willful conduct litigation, manufacturers and their in-house counsel will increasingly confront difficult choices on obligations toward supervisors.