Our firm recently settled a case with a Swedish insurance company that arose out of the death of Beverlyn Wingard. The decedent was working on Jan. 28, 2008, as a warper operator at the Albany International plant in Montgomery. The warper is a machine that winds lines similar to fishing monofilament line onto a spool called a canister. Several canisters are then used to weave a type of fabric that is used in the paper industry. Beverlyn had operated the warper machine without problems for a number of years. Albany decided to upgrade the machine and hired Texo AB, a Swedish company, to perform the work.
Before the upgrade, an S-Roll drive pulled the line from a creel through to the canister. Lint accumulated on the two rolls and had to be cleaned periodically when the machine was shut down. After the Texo work, the rollers would not turn while the machine was in the off position. As a result, Ms. Wingard and other co-workers started cleaning the S-Roll while the warper was operating. There was an unguarded nip point between the rolls. Ms. Wingard’s hand was caught in the nip and she was pulled into the machine. She died as a result.
We filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Walter Wingard, the Administrator of his sister’s estate, in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County. Named as Defendants in the suit were Texo, Inc. and Texo AB. The trial resulted in a jury verdict against both Defendants in the amount of $5.25 million. Texo was insured by LF Kronoberg, a company located in Sweden. Kronoberg had defended the underlying action under reservation of right.
Kronoberg refused to pay the judgment based on a punitive exclusion in their policy. Under Alabama’s wrongful death statute, the only damages recoverable are considered punitive damages. After judgment was entered in the underlying case,, the Plaintiffs accepted an assignment of the insurance contract claim from Texo and proceeded against LF Kronoberg in Federal Court. Subsequently, LF Kronoberg filed suit against Mr. Wingard in a Swedish Court, claiming negative declaratory judgment.
U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins entered a judgment against L.F. Kronoberg for the policy limits in the amount of $20 million Swedish Kronas (approximately $3 Million USD). There are a number of Alabama cases that indicate that for public policy considerations, insurers cannot exclude punitive damages in wrongful death cases in Alabama. There is an Alabama Attorney General’s opinion that dates back many years that basically prohibits insurers from excluding punitive damages in death cases in Alabama. Otherwise, there would be no recovery in death cases even though policy would pay for a bodily injury. In essence, it would be in the interest of the wrongdoer to cause death rather than injury if the punitive exclusions were upheld.
L.F. Kronoberg appealed the judgment to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. We settled the case while the case was pending in the 11th Circuit for a confidential amount. This most interesting case was handled by Greg Allen and Kendall Dunson, lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability Section. They did a very good job for their client in this extremely challenging case.
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