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Accidents, disagreements and liabilities – a festive sampling of holiday legal hazards

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 21, 2018.


Phillips Murrah litigation attorney Hillary Clifton discusses holiday legal hazards.

Hilary Hudson Clifton is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters. Click photo to visit her attorney profile.

As we find ourselves in the midst of another holiday season, it’s a good time to contemplate the joys this time of year brings. For many, that list includes extra time with loved ones, hearty food and cozy pajamas.

Hopefully, holiday-specific “legal woes” are less likely to come to mind. Nevertheless, holidays often have their own unique histories of legal issues that few would equate with the brotherly love and fa-la-la-falderal we expect during this “most wonderful time of the year.”

By this time, those who opened their homes and businesses on Halloween hopefully avoided any incidents associated with the spookier part of the season, like haunted house trip-and-falls or home-made cotton-ball sheep costume fires (see Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson Products, Inc.).

Premises liability, however, remains a major concern for retailers preparing for the onslaught of holiday shoppers. Though most Black Friday retail giants are now well-acquainted with the safety risks associated with enormous sales and even bigger crowds, smaller retailers should be sure to beef up their safety protocol and brush up on premises liability concepts to keep the shopping season incident-free.

In addition to civil liability, failure to adequately cope with Black Friday madness can result in a business being cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers” can be found online.

Less tangible injuries to intellectual property rights will often arise in connection with holiday-themed entertainment. One case that has been in the news recently involves the Netflix series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which puts a darker twist on Sabrina the Teenage Witch), and The Satanic Temple’s claim that a statue featured in the show of the goat-headed Baphomet infringes on the Temple’s copyright of its own monument.

There’s also a fair chance that your favorite Christmas carol continues to generate income as someone’s intellectual property – and that someone would like to keep it that way (think the listless bachelor played by Hugh Grant in About A Boy). Of course, many holiday favorites, like Deck the Halls and Silent Night, have become part of the public domain and are perfect for spreading Christmas cheer. Others, like Frosty the Snowman, are still protected by copyright and require a license for public performances.

Finally, if you have any particularly overzealous family members, you might turn the threat of intellectual property litigation to your advantage, by cautioning that their makeshift mistletoe hats infringe on the “mistletoe supporting headband” patented in 1983 or the “Kiss Me” holiday cap patented in 1999.

Though I wouldn’t recommend Grinch-ing up your holiday parties by casually chatting about all the ways one might get sued before the new year, we should all keep in mind that no season is immune from the unfortunate reality of accidents, disagreements and liabilities – no matter how sincere our sentiments of peace on earth and good will toward man.

OSHA revises online whistleblower complaint form

Published on August 15, 2017

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced revisions its online whistleblower complaint form in July in order to help users file a complaint with the appropriate agency.

The updated form provides workers with another option for submitting retaliation complaints to the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA.

In the news release, OSHA announced:

The updated form guides individuals as they file a complaint through the process, providing essential questions at the beginning so they can better understand and exercise their rights under relevant laws. One significant improvement to the system includes pop-up boxes with information about various agencies for individuals who indicate that they have engaged in protected activity that may be addressed by an agency other than OSHA. The new form is available in English and Spanish.

“Workers who report unsafe conditions and wrongdoing have a range of legal protections from retaliation,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “The revised online complaint form works to ensure whistleblowers file their complaints with the appropriate federal agency for prompt action.”

In addition to the online form, workers can file complaints by fax, mail, or hand-delivery. Complaints may also be filed by contacting the agency at (800) 321-6742 or by calling an OSHA regional or area office.

Read more about whistleblower rights here, and learn more about OSHA’s role in ensuring safe and healthful workplaces at www.osha.gov.

Disclaimer: This website post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should not rely upon this information as a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal concern, you should seek legal advice from an attorney.

Oklahoma Department of Labor offers free, confidential safety consultations

Are you concerned about your company’s OSHA compliance? Do you have concerns for the safety of your employees?

Safety consultants can be expensive, and during a time of tight financial resources, safety can take a back seat to other company priorities. However, in Oklahoma we have a cost-free option – the ODOL Safety Consultation program offered by the Oklahoma Department of Labor.

The goal of these inspections is compliance, not to levy fines. The ODOL will assess safety, evaluate the work site, and assist with training and compliance with the OSHA. Most importantly, if a concern is identified by the ODOL safety inspector, he or she will provide your company with suggestions about how to how to improve safety and obtain compliance with OSHA.

The company must agree to correct all hazards identified as serious within the established time frame. The consultations are not reported to OSHA. However, if an OSHA inspection should occur, there are requirements about company reporting regarding certain types of testing performed by the ODOL safety inspector.

Every company that is concerned with employee safety should consider these free, confidential, safety inspections. Identifying and correcting a problem can prevent workplace injuries and accidents, and can save the company penalties and fines in the future.

Learn more about these safety consultations by viewing the Oklahoma Department of Labor’s informational video: Workplace Safety Pays in Oklahoma

Disclaimer: Consultations are not a replacement for legal advice. If you have questions or need legal assistance for safety issues, please contact the law firm of Phillips Murrah at (405) 235-4100.