Lawyer for Suing Packaging Corporation of America

Packaging Corporation of America is, in its own words, “one of the largest producers of containerboard and corrugated packaging products in the U.S.” It controls over a hundred facilities around the country, including three here in Georgia. And, like most large manufacturing companies, it doesn’t always live up to its responsibility to keep the people who work for it safe.

Containerboard Plants Need Strict Fire Safety Measures, Which PCA Has Not Always Provided

Just over a month ago, in May of 2024, two PCA employees were hospitalized with smoke inhalation injuries, after a fire started in the ductwork of the plant in Honea Path, South Carolina. While these victims are thankfully expected to survive, serious injuries from a structure fire are an indication that many layers of safety measures have failed, or were not correctly implemented in the first place.

Every business with physical premises is required to follow the International Fire Code, which provides standards for every step of fire safety, from preventing ignition in the first place, to containing the spread of accidental fires, to preparing a quick, safe escape plan for the building’s occupants if a fire does get out of control.

Plants that manufacture paper and cardboard need to be more careful than most, because their work involves heat sources, flammable materials, and pressure vessels.

Unfortunately, this was not the first, or the most severe, fire safety failure that PCA has had.

In 2017, three contractors were killed, and at least nine more injured, in an explosion at the PCA plant in Deridder, Louisiana. The contractors were performing welding work on a tank, which had not been properly purged. The explosion was due to a buildup of flammable gas inside.

OSHA cited and fined the Deridder plant after the accident, both for failing to make the welding area safe, and for not having a fire evacuation plan. The injured survivors also sued multiple defendants and were awarded $141 million.

Five years earlier, another worker was severely burned while trying to relight a steam boiler at the PCA plant in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. After an investigation, OSHA’s proposed penalties for the plant totaled over $185,000 for some 30 separate violations.

Working with Heavy Machinery Is One of the Most Dangerous Tasks in Any Workplace

The most dangerous jobs in the world almost always involve machines that move under their own power and are strong and heavy enough to crush human body parts if used incorrectly.

This includes not only specialized, industry-specific equipment, like a containerboard plant’s corrugators, but also more commonplace heavy machines, like trucks and forklifts.

For example, in August of 2023, a contract worker was killed at the PCA plant in Jackson Alabama, when the heavily loaded dump truck the worker was driving hit a patch of soft earth, tipped over, and rolled into a pond.

A couple years earlier, a PCA employee was killed at the plant in Counce, Tennessee, while operating a clamp truck designed for lifting bales of paper. He was alone at the time of the accident, and was later discovered crushed under the clamps.

PCA didn’t need any specialized containerboard manufacturing experience to know how to support safe operation of these machines. Companies across countless industries have known the rules and best practices for handling trucks and lifting rigs for decades. A well-maintained access road and a spotter’s assistance might have been enough to save those two workers. Instead, their lives were lost, on PCA property, to some of the most common and preventable types of workplace accidents.

Georgia’s Own PCA Plants Have a Troubled History with Machine Safety

Packaging Corporation of America owns two plants in the Atlanta area, and another one in Valdosta. OSHA has cited the East Point location for several alarming violations, including missing safety guards around hazardous machine parts, but the Valdosta location’s record goes beyond alarming, to tragic.

In November of 2019, a conveyor belt jammed in the wood yard of the Valdosta plant. The power to the belt was not shut off, either manually or automatically, when the jam became apparent. When the belt suddenly reengaged, it dragged a worker into a nearby machine, inflicting fatal injuries.

Farther back, in December of 2000, a contractor suffered serious injuries to both legs while working to repair a smokestack at the Valdosta plant. The repair involved hoisting and replacing large metal plates, and when the accident occurred, the crane operator had left a load of the plates resting against the road, still partially suspended from the crane. The victim, the crane operator, and the foreman were all reportedly discussing whether to postpone the job due to high wind, when the wind shifted the plates. The plates struck the victim’s legs while he was trying to stabilize them.

Heavy machinery accidents may seem random or “out of nowhere” on the surface, but these two horrific incidents are both key examples of how they typically happen. In both cases, a common, unavoidable complication came up in the operation of the machine, but instead of immediately neutralizing the threat, the team left it in an active state, in the vicinity of personnel, while they prepared their next steps.

In the case of the conveyor belt accident, it also seems possible that workers in the wood yard may have been unnecessarily exposed to unguarded moving parts.

Emergency situation or not, no one should have to work near an active safety hazard, unless they’ve been specially trained, equipped, and prepared to deal with this particular hazard as safely as possible. Even then, if anything can reasonably be done to make a task safer, it should be.

When an unexpected complication does arise during work with heavy machinery, shutting down power, securing live loads, and clearing the area until a plan can be made should be such an automatic response that no one even needs to think about it.

Workers Can Only Sue PCA Under Very Specific Circumstances

Regardless of what PCA could or couldn’t have done differently to protect any of its workers, employers in the U.S are legally immune to almost all workplace accident lawsuits.

This immunity is part of worker’s comp law, which allows injured employees to collect an immediate payout to offset their expenses, without having to wait for an investigation to determine fault. The downside is that, if an accident causes serious, lasting harm, a worker’s comp settlement won’t come anywhere close to covering the full value of the damages.

If you were injured at a PCA plant, or lost a loved one to an accident there, you won’t be able to sue PCA unless one of these exceptions applies to you:

  • You (or your loved one) did NOT have an employer/employee relationship with PCA.
  • PCA has rejected your worker’s comp claim.
  • You have proof that the “accident” was not an accident at all, but a deliberate attempt to cause harm.

Don’t panic if your case doesn’t fit any of these exceptions. You may still be able to sue for full compensation, you just won’t be able to name PCA as a defendant.

The Stoddard Firm Helps Industrial Accident Survivors Find Paths to Compensation

When an accident happens in an industrial facility, like a containerboard plant, the company that owns the facility is rarely the only one that played a role in what happened.

Like any manufacturing company, Packaging Corporation of America doesn’t create and institute all of its own safety mechanisms and protocols from scratch. It relies on the professional expertise of:

  • Equipment designers and manufacturers.
  • Equipment maintenance, repair, and retooling services.
  • Crane companies, and other subcontractors hired to perform specialty work on the plant’s premises.
  • Risk assessment consultants.

So, for example, suppose your accident involved a machine that was missing necessary safety guards or emergency shutdown features. You can’t sue PCA, but you might be able to sue the company that made the machine, companies the modified it, the company that owns it (if different from PCA), or companies that approved it as safe for use.

The Stoddard Firm excels at investigating industrial accidents from every angle, reconstructing the full sequence of events and identifying all negligent parties.

If you’d like to discuss your specific PCA accident with a containerboard plant lawyer in Georgia, reach out any time by phone or chat for a free consultation.

Attorney Matt Stoddard

Atlanta Personal Injury LawyerMatt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]

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