A judge in Oregon cleared the way for a case against Jeld-Wen Inc. recently, by deeming that the defendant posted sufficient grounds for negligence. After a bundle containing 40 of the manufacturer’s windows fell on him while unloading a shipment, plaintiff Gary Groeneweg is suing the company over injuries.

“Because defendant’s employees composed the bundles of windows, they controlled how many windows plaintiff had to carry at any one time,” U.S. District judge Ann Aiken opined, declaring that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the company owned the trailer he transported and helped to unload, entitling him to statutory protections. While granting in part and denying in part Jeld-Wen’s motion to dismiss, Aiken shot down a request for oral arguments.

Groeneweg works for Lincoln, Neb.-based Crete Carrier Corp., which contracted with Jeld-Wen to deliver windows from Bend, Ore., to Professional Builder’s Supply in North Carolina in April 2018. According to court documents, Jeld-Wen employees loaded a trailer for shipment, including bundles of 40 windows, with each bundle secured by individual securement straps.

According to information provided in the Judge’s Opinion and Order, Jeld-Wen requires drivers to assist in unloading shipments. In a complaint filed in May 2020, and an amended complaint filed June 15, Groeneweg said when he removed a securement strap to help unload the company’s windows, a bundle fell on him, causing injury. When others came to his aid, the bundle, he said, fell on him again.

By loading and securing the windows, Groeneweg alleges that the manufacturer acted negligently, creating a situation that caused injury. In her opinion and ruling the judge said that because Jeld-Wen employees maintained control of the loading and securing process, they “could foresee how the unloading process would occur,” giving the company control over the risk of injury. For this reason, the court found that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the harm caused by Jeld-Wen’s windows was foreseeable.

Groeneweg further alleges that Jeld-Wen violated the Oregon Safe Employment Act (OSEA), which requires employers and owners to maintain safe work environments. In its motion to dismiss, the company argued that the plaintiff was not a member of a class protected by OSEA, because he isn’t a direct employee of Jeld-Wen, and that the claim that it was the owner of the trailer is conclusory. The court found that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged Jeld-Wen was the owner of the trailer and is therefore protected by the related statute. At the same time, the plaintiff agrees with the defendant that a separate statute, Or. Rev. Stat. § 654.010, applies only to employers.

“Because plaintiff concedes that he was not the direct employee of defendant, and the statute does not hold owners accountable,” the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims for that statute.

Lastly, a third claim enlists the Oregon Employer Liability Law (OELL), which is designed to ensure that employers provide safe premises for their employees, also permitting plaintiffs to recover from indirect employers such as owners, contractors and subcontractors, when, among other factors, indirect employees prove that they were an adopted or intermingled employee of the defendant. Officials for Jeld-Wen argue that the plaintiff was not an adopted or intermingled employee. Among other supporting opinions, “Because plaintiff’s injuries resulted from equipment that defendant’s employees placed and secured, plaintiff can be considered an adopted or intermingled employee,” the Judge said.

Ultimately, because Jeld-Wen’s employees composed the bundles of windows, they controlled how many Groeneweg had to carry at once, the Judge concluded. “Thus, defendant did more than tell plaintiff to unload the trailer, it controlled the manner and method of unloading,” she said.

As a result, the court upheld common law negligence claims, the negligence per se claims and OSEA claims based on several statutes, as well as OELL claims, while granting just one of the defendant’s motions to dismiss.

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