FIFTH CIRCUIT VACATES AND REMANDS DISTRICT COURT’S GRANT OF SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON CLAIM OF FAILURE TO PROVIDE PROPER WORK EQUIPMENT
Recently, the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Home Depot had a duty to provide a back brace to its employee. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the employee’s claim of negligent failure to provide proper equipment. In Molina v Home Depot, No. 21-20128, 2021 WL 5830819 (5th Cir., Dec. 9, 2021), Molina was working in the Home Depot lumber department when he was injured while “flat stacking” pieces of timber (rearranging building materials disheveled by customers). As Molina lifted a piece of timber and attempted to move it to its designated shelf, he experienced pain in his lower back, causing him to drop to the ground. Molina subsequently filed suit against Home Depot, alleging that Home Depot breached its duty to provide him with the proper assistance, equipment, and training to safely perform “flat stacking.” Home Depot moved for summary judgment, arguing that it owed no duty to provide additional assistance to Molina. The district court granted summary judgment to Home Depot on all three claims, and Molina appealed.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals began its analysis by summarizing the relevant law: “[E]mployers are not insurers of their employees' safety—they have no duty to warn employees about hazards that are commonly known or already appreciated. Nor do employers have a duty to provide equipment or assistance that is unnecessary to the job's safe performance. In other words, an employee's injury at work alone is not enough to prevail on a negligence claim. Specifically, an employer is not liable if the employee is injured doing the work typical for his position, unless that work is especially perilous.”
Next, the Fifth Circuit concluded that there was no factual dispute as to whether Home Depot had a duty to train Molina on “flat stacking.” To that end, the Fifth Circuit reasoned that the alleged danger was “commonly known.” That is, Home Depot customers often moved lumber, indicating that the potential cause of injury was not disguised. Further, employees routinely performed “flat stacking.” Lastly, Molina acknowledged that he completed computer training on how to lift properly, and he also admitted that he did not need additional training to “flat stack” safely.
The Fifth Circuit concluded that there was also no factual dispute as to whether Home Depot had a duty to provide assistance to Molina. To that end, the Fifth Circuit reasoned that Molina admitted that he did “flat stacking” nearly every day for a year leading up to the incident—and so did every other employee in the lumber department. He also admitted that “flat stacking” was not necessarily a two-man job. Additionally, Molina never asked for help “flat stacking”. Thus, “flat stacking” was typical for his position. Further, it was not especially perilous, as customers regularly moved the same materials.
But, the Fifth Circuit concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Home Depot had a duty to provide a back brace to Molina. To that end, the Fifth Circuit reasoned that Molina had asked for a back brace on many occasions before the incident occurred, but his requests were denied. Also, Home Depot admitted that a back brace may be necessary for employees in the lumber department to avoid injury.
In sum, the Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Molina's claims of inadequate assistance and training but vacated and remanded the grant of summary judgment on Molina's claim for inadequate equipment.