Worker Cannot Maintain Civil Tort Claims Against Car Manufacturer for Alleged Exposure to Formaldehyde

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi granted summary judgment to a car manufacturer in a case brought by a worker injured at the car manufacturer’s plant.  The worker alleges the manufacturer exposed him to formaldehyde-gas emissions on three separate dates that caused him to develop epilepsy. He brought claims for fraudulent misrepresentation, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which forced the court to consider whether the intentional tort exception to Mississippi’s workers’ compensation regime applied. If it did not, then the claims would be barred.

Mississippi courts have interpreted the worker’s compensation regime to require that a worker must show that his or her employer acted “with an actual intent to injure the employee” to invoke the intentional tort exception. The worker introduced evidence purporting to show that the manufacturer knew there was formaldehyde gas throughout the plant (but the manufacturer introduced evidence to show that exposure below the permissible exposure limit would not cause an employee to suffer adverse health effects). The worker was critical of the manufacturer’s handling of smoke, but while there was evidence that the testing could have been better, the court emphasized that the worker had not shown that the car manufacturer’s dealing with smoke did not reflect an actual intent to harm him.

Throughout the rest of the court’s analysis, even though the court acknowledges that the worker could show that mistakes were arguably made, there was no evidence that the manufacturer had an actual intent to injure him, and thus the court could not allow the case to proceed to a jury.  The court granted the car manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment.

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