(CN) — A family can amend claims that an Amazon warehouse worker forced to undertake “herculean” tasks was pulled through a defective conveyor belt to his death, a federal judge ruled.
New Jersey resident Ronald Smith was distributing packages for Amazon.com Inc. and Amazon Fulfillment Inc. at their warehouse and distribution center in Avenel, N.J. on Dec. 4, 2013, when the incident occurred, the complaint states.
When a conveyor belt and sortation and palletizing system got jammed that day, Smith tried to clear it, according to the complaint.
His arm got caught in the machine, pulling Smith through a gap less than six inches wide, the complaint states.
Smith then fell about 15 to 18 feet onto the concrete ground below, injuring his head and hip, according to the complaint.
He was taken to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in Rahway, New Jersey, where he was pronounced dead, the complaint states.
The autopsy listed multiple blunt force impact injuries as Smith’s official cause of death, according to the complaint.
Reshonda Hunter, administrator Ad Prosequendum of Smith’s estate; his heirs; and Ronald Smith filed suit in Essex County Superior Court, alleging wrongful death, survivorship, and product liability claims against Amazon, as well as the machine manufacturers, Michigan-based Dematic USA and Dematic Corp., and the facility operator, Genco I Inc. dba Genco.
Amazon and Genco trained and controlled all workers at the facility, demanding “herculean production” from them, according to the complaint.
The complaint also names 10 ABC corporations and 10 John Doe defendants.
Smith was a temp employee hired by Richmond, Virginia-based nonparty Abacus Corp., with which Amazon contracted to supply warehouse workers, the complaint states.
After Dematic removed the action to federal court on Feb. 17, 2016, Amazon and Genco moved to dismiss for lack of standing and failure to state a claim.
The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on March 21, 2016, seeking compensatory damages exceeding $150,000, punitive damages, interest, and costs of suit.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Walls granted the motion last week.
“As plaintiffs argue, the amended complaint is ‘informed by some of the issues broached in defendants’ motions to dismiss,'” Walls wrote on May 18. “Without ruling on the merits of the existing motions, the court observes that Amazon argued the original complaint did not adequately allege a strict products liability claim against it, and did not make sufficient allegations regarding the existence or breach of Amazon’s duty of care to decedent Smith. The amended complaint removes Amazon as a defendant from the strict liability claim and contains new allegations regarding Amazon’s duty of care. Additionally, perhaps in response to Amazon and Genco’s arguments against plaintiffs’ motion to remand, the amended complaint now asserts that jurisdiction is proper in this court because the parties are completely diverse, rendering plaintiffs’ motion to remand moot. This is precisely the type of issue and pleading streamlining discussed in the 2009 Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 15. The Court grants Plaintiffs leave to amend and accepts the amended complaint.”
The court rejected Amazon’s claim that the plaintiffs should not be allowed to amend their complaint because there is only a single 21-day period available for them to do so.
“Plaintiffs received an extension of time to respond to Amazon’s motion to dismiss on March 16, three days before their deadline to file an amended complaint as a matter of course,” Walls wrote. “The request for an extension and order granting the extension were timely.”
Genco’s attorney, Daniel Pomeroy with Pomeroy, Heller & Ley in Springfield, New Jersey, declined to comment, noting only that “we are just now analyzing the decision on Genco’s behalf.”
Hunter’s attorney, Stephen Skovron in Philadelphia; and other plaintiffs’ attorneys, Joseph Cronin with Cronin Law Firm in Philadelphia and Amanda Davidson in Media, Pennsylvania, did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did Amazon’s attorneys, Su Jin Kim and John McGahren with Morgan Lewis & Bockius in Princeton, New Jersey; and Dematic’s attorney, Robert Schaefer Jr. with Harris Beach in Newark, New Jersey.
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