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Sylacauga mother fighting to change state workers’ compensation laws after son’s death

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SYLACAUGA, Ala. – A Sylacauga mother is pushing to change Alabama workers’ compensation laws after her son’s death that stemmed from an accident on the job in September 2019.

According to records from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), 20-year-old Mason Spurlin lost consciousness, asphyxiated, and died from oxygen deprivation.

Spurlin had been washing out a tanker at J&M Tank Lines in Sylacauga where he was employed.

“He came up from the tank telling the bosses something smelled funny,” said Connie Hay, Spurlin’s mother. “They kept telling him to go back down, that everything was fine. Of course, when your boss tells you to do something, you do it and he did but never came out of it.”

Online OSHA records show that five serious violations related to permit-required confined spaces were found after an inspection.

Hay still struggles with the pain of losing her son, who aspired to someday be a diesel mechanic.

After the incident in 2019, Hay rushed to be with her son at Coosa Valley Medical Center. He was later transferred to UAB where he died.

“The doctors just kept telling me, ‘we don’t know where to begin. We don’t know. He has inhaled something toxic that has completely scorched his lungs,"” said Hay.

Despite the OSHA violations, the employer has immunity under Alabama’s Workers Compensation Law.

Alabama’s law does not allow you to sue your employer for anything other than what is available under compensation statute.

A portion of the statute reads:

If the deceased employee at the time of his or her death has no dependents as herein defined, then within 60 days of his or her death, the employer shall pay a one-time lump sum payment of seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500) to the deceased worker’s estate.

Since Mason Spurlin did not have a wife, children, or any dependents, his family is only eligible to receive $7,500 according to records. The amount was set by the state several years ago and has not changed with inflation.

“He had his whole life ahead of him,” said Hay. “He was robbed of [his life] because J&M Tank Lines didn’t follow federal safety regulations. To say someone’s life is worth only $7,500 beforehand is absolutely insane. That’s why I want to change the state law by raising those rates and creating an exception to the immunity shield for companies, who clearly violate state or federal law.”

Spurlin’s family says the will not give up no matter what.

Hay has reached out to area lawmakers and started a petition to change the compensation laws. You can read more here.


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