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In an order released last Friday, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young continued his pattern of ruling against the innocent victims of workplace hazards and in favor of corporations and insurance companies.

The case involved workers at a construction site who were responsible for operating a crane. The plaintiff, an employee of a subcontractor working the site, was nearly killed when the crane made contact with nearby power lines. He was rendered unconscious and suffered severe burns, requiring skin grafts. The worker sued the general contractor and invoked the "common work area" doctrine, which, simply stated, means that a general contractor is responsible for hazards that endanger a large number of workers. In a unanimous opinion, the a panel of the Court of Appeals held that the general contractor should be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

In a one-page order, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. Because only 2 to 6 workers were at risk of death by electrocution, the Court reasoned, the general contractor should not be responsible for their safety. The order, while not surprising in light of Justice Young’s record, begs the question: How many workers have to in danger before an employer has a duty to make the workplace safe?

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