Merkel & Cocke is currently involved in a wrongful death case, representing the family of Mr. Irwin, a construction worker who was killed while working as an employee of a sub-contractor on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction project. While performing work in the “clearing and grubbing” phase of the project, Mr. Irwin was killed when a large tree fell on the cab of the track hoe he was operating. Not only did Mr. Irwin lose his life, but as with many wrongful death cases, the accident had a devastating impact on Mr. Irwin’s family. Unfortunately, worker’s compensation provides only limited benefits for people like the Irwin family members who have forever lost a loved one. Although it seemed that the limited worker’s compensation benefits were the sole recourse available to the Irwin family, Merkel & Cocke decided to explore other avenues by which to obtain adequate compensation.
Merkel & Cocke’s investigation revealed that the Corps of Engineers had knowledge of a dangerous method being used on the project for felling large timber by using machinery which was not adequately equipped with falling objects protective systems (“FOPS”) or rollover protective systems (“ROPS”) on the cabs to protect the operators from falling objects such as large trees. Merkel & Cocke’s investigation further revealed that the Corps of Engineers had a “Quality Assurance Representative” at the project site on a daily basis. This person’s job was to observe the work of the contractor to ensure that work was being performed in accordance with contract specifications. He was also obligated to approve daily machinery safety equipment inspections. This Corps of Engineers representative had authority to stop operations that were deemed to “place an employee in eminent danger of serious injury or loss of life” or which would “unreasonably endanger personnel or property.” On this particular project, the Quality Assurance Representative ignored safety issues in violation of the Corps’ own Safety Manual and in violation of state and federal standards governing protective equipment on heavy machinery used for felling timber.
This case is an example of the determination and diligence Merkel & Cocke’s lawyers and staff use in protecting the rights and interests of their clients. On its face, this case seemed to be one covered by worker’s compensation law, but Merkel & Cocke’s “thinking outside the box” has taken the case much farther. Merkel & Cocke has had much experience and success in handling not only worker’s compensation cases but other types of more complicated litigation throughout Mississippi, Tennessee and many other states involving defective products, oversights in supervision, breach of contract, professional malpractice, catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death.