Ex-foreman files $7 million suit against Summers-Taylor

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A former supervisor with Summers-Taylor paving company has filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the company alleging he was terminated after he accepted a worker's compensation agreement.
   Filed in Circuit Court for Carter County by attorneys Charlton DeVault and William R. Berry, the complaint names Summers-Taylor, Inc. as the defendant and Don Michael Brown as plaintiff.
   The complaint reads that Brown had suffered a shoulder injury resulting in medical impairment in 2000 that resulted in a $20,000 settlement.
   The complaints further reads that Brown was assigned to run a "scraper" by the company's managing agents in Feb. 2002 even though he had no prior experience operating the machine. Brown reportedly suffered a head and back injury and did not file a worker's compensation claim because "defendant's managing officials were stressing to foreman that the company would have zero tolerance for on-the-job injuries," according to the complaint.
   Brown's suit alleges that a Summers-Taylor superintendent told him in May 2002 that if he took a settlement in his current worker's compensation claim "he would be fired." The suit reads that later that month, Brown suffered a heart attack. While recuperating, he was contacted by an attorney from Knoxville that stated he was entitled to receive $9,600 based on his injury. Brown accepted the amount and appeared before a worker's compensation specialist to complete the final settlement and paperwork, according to the complaint.
   After contacting company officials regarding his return to work, Brown's suit alleges the company's executive vice president, Billy Chandler, told him the "company had nothing for the plaintiff to do." The company never returned Brown to work, according to his complaint.
   The complaint alleges the company violated public policy by discharging him in retaliation with his filing and settling for a worker's compensation claim.
   Brown seeks compensatory damages of $2 million and $5 million in punitive damages plus reinstatement to his former position as foreman.
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   A motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against a North Carolina county government and the county's sheriff was denied by a Circuit Court judge last week.
   Judge Jean Stanley denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the government of Avery County and Sheriff Edward Gwyn involving a police pursuit of a suspect that ended with a motorist's death.
   Filed in Carter County in August 2002, the suit named Richard D. Hughes of Roan Mountain, Gwyn and Avery County as defendants.
   The suit's plaintiffs are Carolyn Davis, administratrix of the estate of Meloney S. Bowers, and James R. Bowers, the victim's husband, and the couple's three children. The suit was filed after Hughes allegedly struck her vehicle during a police pursuit that began in Elk Park, N.C., and ended on Highway 19E in Roan Mountain on Oct. 31, 2001, according to a Tennessee Highway Patrol report. Bowers was killed in the accident. Hughes has been charged with vehicular homicide.
   In her order, Stanley wrote that the Government Tort Liability Act (GTLA) removed immunity from the negligent operation of motor vehicles. The GTLA reads that the venue of a suit is either in the county where the governmental entity is located or in the county in which the incident occurred, according to Stanley's order.
   The motion to dismiss was based on improper venue and lack of personal jurisdiction in the case, according to the ruling. The court also found "sufficient contacts" between the defendants and the state to give the Circuit Court jurisdiction over Gwyn and Avery County.
   The suit alleges negligence on behalf of Hughes was the direct cause of Bowers' death. The suit also alleges Sheriff Gwyn was negligent and reckless in his conduct.
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   Two inmates of the Northeast Correctional Complex who were injured in a motor vehicle accident involving a prison van and an automobile in Roan Mountain last year have the sued the estate of the automobile's operator who died in the accident.
   Filed separately in Carter County Circuit Court on Wednesday by Dandridge attorney Richard Talley, the complaints name Tony Wayne Snyder, 32, and Roger Stephen Smith, 32, as plaintiffs and Clifton Corker, acting as administrator ad litem for the estate of Wanda J. Boone, as defendant.
   Snyder and Smith were two of 10 occupants in a state prison van that collided with a vehicle driven by Boone on April 22, 2002. Boone was killed in the accident.
   Both complaints state the plaintiffs suffered serious bodily injuries as a result of the accident. Both suits allege negligence on the part of Boone for cause of the accident.
   Snyder's suit seeks $36,587 in medical expenses and $250,000 in damages from Boone's estate, according to the complaint. Smith's complaint requests $150,000 in damages.