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Smith v. Western Electric Co

    Brief Fact Summary. Smith (Plaintiff) appeals an order dismissing his petition on the ground it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff’s petition sought an injunction to prevent his employer from exposing him to tobacco smoke in the workplace and from affecting his pay or employment conditions because of his medical reaction to tobacco smoke.
    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Injunctive relief is available if irreparable harm is likely to result and a plaintiff has no adequate remedy at law.

    Facts. Plaintiff appeals an order that dismissed his petition on the ground it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The petition seeks an injunction to prevent Plaintiff’s employer from exposing him to tobacco smoke in the workplace and from affecting his employment conditions because of his medical reaction to tobacco smoke. Specifically, the petition alleges that Western Electric Company (Defendant) permits its employees to be exposed to a health hazard and breached its duty to provide a safe place to work. The petition further states that in 1975, the Plaintiff began to experience respiratory tract discomfort as a result of inhaling tobacco smoke in the workplace. A medical examination determined that Plaintiff suffers an adverse reaction to tobacco smoke. The doctors who evaluated and treated Plaintiff advised him to avoid contact with tobacco smoke. When Plaintiff first complained to Defendant in 1975, it moved Plaintiff to a different location within the plant. However, his health did not improve because those locations also contained a significant amount of tobacco smoke. In 1978, Plaintiff was informed that he should not file any other complaints. Defendant adopted a smoking policy in 1980, in response to recommendations of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. However, Defendant failed to implement its policy and there was little to no improvement in the workplace air. In 1980, Plaintiff filed a Handicapped Declaration Statement with Defendant claiming that he was handicapped by his susceptibility to tobacco smoke. Defendant continued to refuse to separate smokers to limit smoking to non-work areas and informed Plaintiff he could either continue to work in the same location and wear a respirator, or he could apply for a lower paying job. Plaintiff’s complaint states that he has exhausted all claims of relief and has no adequate remedy at law. The complaint alleges that Defendant breached his duty as an employer to maintain a safe place to work and that it has reasonable alternatives to avoid the continuing breach of duty.

    Issue. Whether Plaintiff’s allegations entitle him to injunctive relief?

    Held. Yes. Plaintiff should be allowed the opportunity to prove his allegations. Injunctive relief is available if a plaintiff’s allegations invoke principles of law entitling him to relief, irreparable harm is likely to result if not granted, and there is no adequate remedy at law available. Here, an employer owes a duty to their employees to provide a reasonably safe work place and to protect employees from avoidable peril. Plaintiff’s petition adequately shows that the tobacco smoke of co-workers smoking in the work place is hazardous to the health of employees. The petition further demonstrates that Defendant knew the tobacco smoke was harmful to Plaintiff’s health and Defendant has the authority, ability, and reasonable means to control smoking in the workplace. Thus, Defendant has breached his duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace. Exposure to smoke in the workplace causes irreparable harm. This is a harm for which money damages cannot adequately compensate a plaintiff. Plaintiffs should not be required to await the fruition of harm before he is entitled to seek an inadequate remedy. Therefore, the injunction is the appropriate remedy.

    Discussion. Permanent injunctions directly order defendants to either take action or to cease action. Monetary damages provide recovery for past harms, while injunctions prevent future harms from occurring. The purpose of an injunction is to provide a remedy when there is no available remedy at law. The effect of injunctions is that a defendant who violates an injunction may be liable for civil or criminal contempt.


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