Wrongful Death of Louisiana Salt Mine Worker Killed in 2009 Weeks Island Salt Mine Collapse

Based on the published Western District of Louisiana opinion, Pennier, et al. v. Morton Int’l, et al., 2011 WL 6160207, (W.D. LA 6/24/2011), on June 12, 2009, a Louisiana salt mine worker was pressure washing equipment inside Morton’s salt mine in Weeks Island near New Iberia, Louisiana when the salt mine’s roof collapsed, causing fatal injuries. His family hired Broussard & David, LLC to bring a wrongful death action against his employer, Morton Salt, alleging fraudulent misrepresentation on the part of Morton’s employees.

Typically, the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation law constrains an employee’s recovery for on-the-job injuries. A narrow exception to Worker’s Compensation allows an employee to avoid this limited recovery by proving that the employer acted intentionally with the substantially certain knowledge that an injury may result.

Based on Pennier, et al. v. Morton Int’l, et al., 2011 WL 6160207, (W.D. LA 6/24/2011), the attorney representing the family of the deceased worker, Blake R. David of Broussard & David, LLC, escaped Worker’s Compensation exclusivity by establishing, through employee and manager testimony, Morton employee knowledge that its employees had used illegal bolting practices for a substantial time before the Salt Mine’s roof collapsed. Morton’s employees were required by law to routinely check and accurately record the torque on salt mine roof bolts with a torque wrench in order to avoid roof collapse. However, Morton’s employees forged bolt torque forms with made-up findings without ever checking the bolt’s torque, and then lied to Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) government inspectors about their bolting procedures to avoid citations. Later, reports from MSHA found that the roof collapse causing the miner’s death resulted from poor installation methods in the bolting procedures by Morton’s employees. Broussard & David’s litigation discovery led to the alleged fraud findings.

The United States Western District Court of Louisiana held that Morton’s alleged fraudulent misrepresentation could be classified as an intentional act since testimony indicated that Morton’s plant manager had substantially certain knowledge of the employee’s illegal and fraudulent bolting practices. By establishing this knowledge, the miner’s family was able to remand the case back to Louisiana state court and obtain justice for the death of their loved one.